Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 14, 2019

Kautsky? No thanks

Filed under: Kautsky,Kevin Coogan — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Karl Kautsky

Jo­hann Most has found a kindred spir­it in Kaut­sky, on whom he had frowned so grimly; even En­gels takes a much more tol­er­ant view of this joker since the lat­ter gave proof of his con­sid­er­able drink­ing abil­ity. When the charm­er — the little joker, I mean — first came to see me, the first ques­tion that rose to my lips was: Are you like your moth­er? “Not in the least!” he ex­claimed, and si­lently I con­grat­u­lated his moth­er. He’s a me­diocrity, nar­row in his out­look, over-wise (only 26 years old), and a know-it-all, al­though hard-work­ing after a fash­ion, much con­cerned with stat­ist­ics out of which, however, he makes little sense. By nature he’s a mem­ber of the phil­istine tribe. For the rest, a de­cent fel­low in his own way; I un­load him onto amigo En­gels as much as I can.

–A letter from Karl Marx to his daughter Jenny, dated August 1881

Largely the result of a confluence between Lars Lih’s writings and the social democratic (or democratic socialist) renaissance triggered by the rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, Karl Kautsky is becoming kind of trendy nowadays.

In a Jacobin article titled “Reclaiming the Best of Karl Kautsky”, James Muldoon, a lecturer at the University of Exeter in England, rescued Kautsky’s 1919 “Guidelines for a Socialist Action Programme” from the obscurity it probably deserved and offered it up as a guideline for the sort of “socialism from below” that crops up frequently in Jacobin:

One hundred years ago, socialists strived to democratize politics, the economy, and society. The democratic socialists of today have nothing to fear from embracing this history and proposing a transformative program of overcoming capitalism. Acknowledging this history not only continues to create a positive perception of socialism as compatible with democracy, it also evokes a meaningful alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

Kautsky is seen as a sensible alternative to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on one hand and the Spartacists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on the other. (It should be mentioned that Bhaskar Sunkara is a Kautsky fan himself.)

Kautsky diverged from both the SPD and the Spartacists. He believed that universal suffrage and parliamentary institutions should form the basis of the new republic. But he did not see any compelling justification for restricting suffrage to paid factory workers, which would disenfranchise large elements of the lower classes including many women, peasants, and the unemployed.

The implication here is that Liebknecht and Luxemburg were for disenfranchising women, peasants and the unemployed, right? Those dastardly extremists, tch-tch. However, if you look at the Kautsky article recommended by Muldoon, there is no reference to the Spartacists opposing universal suffrage. It is certainly doubtful that Rosa Luxemburg would have restricted suffrage to the working-class since one of her main complaints about the Bolsheviks was that they were doing exactly that.

So, by process of elimination, you must conclude that it was Lenin who was the butt of Kautsky’s criticism. It turns out that it wasn’t so much over who gets to vote or not but whether Soviet democracy expressed the kind of “democratic socialism” that Muldoon and Kautsky believe in. The difference was over whether the Bolsheviks were wrong to champion the Soviets which were a class-based institution rather than the constituent assembly favored by Kautsky and the Mensheviks. In his 1918 polemic against the Bolsheviks titled “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Kautsky sounded a Muldoonish note:

Even in a country so highly developed economically as Germany, where the proletariat is so numerous, the establishment of a Soviet Republic would disfranchise great masses of the people. In 1907, the number of men, with their families, belonging to occupations which comprised the three great groups of agriculture, industry and trade, that is, wage-earners and salaried persons, amounted to something over 35,000,000, as against 17,000,000 belonging to other sections. A party could therefore very well have the majority of wage-earners behind it and yet form a minority of the population.

By focusing on question of majority rule, Kautsky skirts the real difference with Lenin—namely the wisdom of carrying out a socialist revolution in a country that lacked the material basis for one. In his polemic, Kautsky views the seizure of power as premature:

In fine, the uninterrupted progress of production is essential for the prosperity of all. The destruction of capitalism is not Socialism. Where capitalist production cannot be transformed at once into Socialist production, it must go on as before, otherwise the process of production will be interrupted, and that hardship for the masses will ensue which the modern proletariat so much fears in the shape of general unemployment.

You get the same line of reasoning with Kautsky’s 1919 article that is the apple of Muldoon’s eyes. In a country convulsed by proletarian resistance, he offers these bromides:

The German republic should become a democratic republic. Yet it should be even more than that. It should become a socialist republic – a commonwealth in which there is no longer any place for the exploitation of man by man.

However, the question of production itself is an even more urgent one than that of the mode of production. The war has forcibly interrupted production. Our most urgent task is to revive it again, to get it up and running. That is the precondition of any attempt to socialise production.

Production requires labour and the means of production. The state authority’s next task is to procure from abroad any food that is lacking, in order to make the worker fit for work. The state authority should also supply industry with raw materials. Wherever it is not possible to supply sufficient raw materials to all the factories in a branch of industry, then above all it is the technically superior factories that should be supplied. For this, the state should use existing laws that allowed factories to be closed during the war.

You get the picture, right? Kautsky’s basic message is don’t rock the boat with all that socialist revolution stuff. No wonder it would appeal to people smitten with Bernie Sanders, who is all for his home state serving as a base for F-35s, a $1.5 trillion boondoggle, or Jeremy Corbyn, whose chief economic adviser John McDonnell warns against nationalizing industry, something that would hearken back to 1945—god forbid.

The theoretical basis for this kind of reformism is the Marxism of the Second International that understood history as a succession of stages. Kautsky, like Plekhanov, opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power because Russia had not developed a full-fledged capitalist economy. Maybe Kautsky had not read Marx’s letters to the Russian populists who were troubled by Plekhanov’s stagism. His letters advised them that the peasant communes could provide the basis for a revolutionary state inspiring revolutions in the West.

This kind of stagism has a new lease on life partially because there are people with scholarly credentials like Lars Lih trying to rewrite the history of the Russian Revolution. In a September 2018 article in “Studies in East European Thought”, he makes the case that Kautsky’s 1909 “The Road to Power” was a major influence on the Bolsheviks. While it is true that Lenin was favorably disposed to Kautsky up until 1917, there were others far more familiar with German politics who might have helped him read Kautsky more critically.

Of course, I am referring to Rosa Luxemburg who saw him close up enough to see all his ideological warts. In 1906, she wrote one of her major contributions to Marxist strategic thinking—“The Mass Strike”, a work that tries to generalize from the experience of the 1905 revolution in Russia, a dress rehearsal for 1917. As editor of “Die Neue Zeit”, Kautsky had big problems with her submitted article since there was “not one word…about a republic”. He was preoccupied as usual with the need for bourgeois democracy, not all that ultra-left business about working-class insurgency: “Universal, equal direct suffrage for all adults, without distinction of sex, is the immediate goal which ensures us the enthusiastic agreement of the broadest strata at the present moment.” He wrote much more in the rejection letter to Luxemburg that she tears apart in “Theory & Practice: A polemic against Comrade Kautsky’s theory of the Mass Strike”. I rather enjoyed her pithy take on his parliamentary cretinism:

Comrade Kautsky is a more qualified Marxian scholar than I: he should know better, what pointed adjective Marx would have applied to this “dodge” and this sort of republicanism “within the limits of the police-permitted and logically impermissible.”

Thus Comrade Kautsky is in error when he says I “bewail myself” of being “badly handled” by the editors of the Neue Zeit. I find only that Comrade Kautsky has handled himself badly.

Despite Kautsky’s insistence on the need for bourgeois democracy in “The Road to Power”, he betrayed his own principles a year after it was written by refusing to lead a campaign against a struggle for voting rights in Prussia in 1910. Writing for the Marxist Left Review in Australia, Darren Rosso contrasted the approaches taken by Kautsky and Luxemburg:

This became clear when the Prussian suffrage struggle broke out in 1910. Kautsky rejected the call for a democratic republic – cutting the knot that had tied the democratic struggle and social revolution. He repudiated Luxemburg’s call to lead an offensive mass struggle for a republic, because he wanted to “keep the gunpowder dry” for the 1912 Reichstag elections. With the mass strike as a concrete tactic, Luxemburg fought to abolish the semi-absolutist regime, after which “the revolution would be propelled beyond this first turning point towards the conquest of power by the proletariat. Her slogan of a republic…tied together all the great struggles of the day with a final aim”, in a process of permanent revolution in German conditions.

This stubborn attachment to distinct stages of history that unfold as predictably as a pupa turning into a butterfly has to be understood to some extent as a function of the influence that Charles Darwin had on Kautsky as well as many other “stagist” theoreticians. For a fascinating account of his attempt to synthesize Marx and Darwin, I recommend the chapter on Kautsky in Richard Weikart’s “Socialist Darwinism” that begins:

Few contributed as much to the dissemination of Darwinism and evolutionary theory in socialist circles as Kautsky, the leading theorist of the German Social Democratic Party in the pre-World War I period. When Kautsky founded Die neue Zeit in 1883, he intended it not only as a theoretical journal promoting Mandan socialism, but also as a vehicle to disseminate Darwinism. He asked Engels to contribute an article on Darwin to appear in the first issue, since “I cannot think of a better introductory article for a popular monthly magazine than one about Darwin. The name alone is already a program.” Kautsky also invited the Darwinian botanist Arnold Dodel to submit scientific articles to his forthcoming journal, explaining, “We want to devote special attention to natural science and specifically to Darwinism and in each number, if possible, carry a scientific article.”

Could it have been possible that Kautsky veered into Social Darwinism at some point? It is hard to shake that suspicion after reading his 1914 “Are the Jews a Race”, a year that according to Weikart came long after he had abandoned a strict application of evolutionary theory to world history.

In chapter five, Kautsky deals with the “Physical Characteristics of the Jewish Race”. He assures his readers that unlike pure races, the Jews did not have a universal marker despite the common perception that a “hooked nose” is dominant. He dismisses such stereotypes with hard evidence: “We have already quoted Luschan’s observation that the Jewish nose is particularly frequent in the Alpine valleys that are cut off from all outside influences, that it is an earmark of the homo alpinus, the Alpine man. While but thirteen or fourteen per cent, of the Jews have a Jewish nose – as a rule – the conservative Catholic population of Ancient Bavaria  shows thirty-one per cent of Jewish noses.” (I have always viewed mine as a cross between an anteater’s and a dill pickle.)

In the next chapter, he moves on to the “Mental Qualities of the Jewish Race”. After establishing that the Jews were a mixed race, he hones in on their cosmopolitanism:

It is very questionable whether natural selection, in the form of the survival of the fittest, has had much influence on evolution. But there is no doubt that it has had an immense influence on the shaping and maintaining of species by means of the elimination of those unfit for the given environment.

In addition to this unconscious adaption, there is also a conscious adaptation. We have already pointed out that the Jew is far more inclined to consult a physician, and to observe the physician’s orders conscientiously, than is the non-Jew, and also, that the Jew – at least in the ghetto – is far less addicted to alcohol. This difference between Jew and non-Jew is at bottom again merely a difference between city-dweller and country-dweller.

Owing to the conditions of his life the latter is far superior to the city-dweller in strength; he is rarely ill. In the fullness of his strengths he despises disease. Owing to his love of displaying his vigour, and to his fear of appearing to be a weakling, he considers it a disgrace to be sick; besides, he is often too ignorant to have confidence in a physician.

I’m not with Kautsky on this physician stuff. I’m much more like the country-dweller, especially when it comes to making appointments with the urologist. I can’t stand those probes.

This hogwash was not the worst of it. Like most Social Darwinists, Kautsky was into eugenics. Kautsky had a particular affinity for Wilhelm Schallmayer who was considered a founder of the eugenics movement in Germany—and a socialist to boot. According to Wikipedia, his key work, “Concerning the Imminent Physical Degeneration of Civilized Humanity” concluded that modern medicine impeded natural selection by aiding the survival and reproduction of those who are “defectively constituted” or “generally weak.” Also, the increase in mental disorders was due to the unfit among us not being able to adapt to the fast-pace of modern industrial civilization. Finally, he fretted that degeneration often led to insanity, which imposed a high economic cost for maintaining lunatic asylums.

Weikart discusses Kautsky’s review of this masterpiece:

By reviewing Schallmayer’s early book, Ueber die drohende korperliche Entartung der Kulturmenschheit (1891, On the Threatening Physical Degeneration of Civilized Humanity), Kautsky became one of the earliest to introduce eugenical thinking into the socialist press. Kautsky agreed with Schailmayer that modern society was promoting degeneration and that medicine and hygiene were contributing to this by facilitating the propagation of weaker and inferior individuals. The bourgeois Darwinists’ solution of reintroducing the struggle for existence is absurd and hypocritical,. according to Kautsky, since all the accomplishments of modern culture work to enervate the struggle for existence. Do they really want to return to primitive society and forfeit their own pride and glory? Kautsky regarded rational social planning as the most beneficial replacement for natural selection. Degeneration could be obviated by removing deleterious environmental influences and promoting healthy conditions of life.

Kautsky? No thanks.


  1. Glad you’re taking up the important debates

    Comment by Tony — January 14, 2019 @ 9:41 pm

  2. Good job here.

    Comment by stew312856 — January 14, 2019 @ 10:24 pm

  3. “Kautsky, like Plekhanov, opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power because Russia had not developed a full-fledged capitalist economy”
    Plechanov prediction regarding Russian revolution was totally right and Lenin was obviously wrong !

    “7) George Plekhanov, Open Letter to the Petrograd Workers (28th October, 1917)

    The reason the events of the last few days pain me so much is not because I do not wish to see the cause of the working class triumph, but, on the contrary, because with all the fibres of my being I wish for the triumph of the workers. The class-conscious elements of our proletariat must ask themselves the question: Is our proletariat ready to proclaim a dictatorship? Everyone who has even a partial understanding as to what economic conditions are necessary for the dictatorship of the proletariat will unhesitatingly answer no to this question.

    No, our working class is far from ready to grasp political power with any advantage to itself and the country at large. To foist such a power upon it means to push it towards a great historical calamity which will prove the greatest tragedy for all Russia.

    It is said that what the Russian worker will begin the German worker will finish. But it is a great mistake to think so. There is no doubt that in an economic sense Germany is much further developed than Russia. The social revolution is nearer in Germany than it is in Russia. But even among the Germans it is not yet a question of the day.

    That means that the Germans will not finish what the Russians have started, nor can it be done by the French, the British, or the Americans. By seizing power at this moment, the Russian proletariat will not achieve a social revolution. It will only bring on civil war, which will in the end force a retreat from the positions won in February and March of this year.”

    I find also Plekhanov predictions regarding future development of Russian revolution in his will 1918 ( I could not find full text and proper source of that will and I hope that those quotes are not fake) :

    “First, as productivity increases, there will be more intellectuals than proletarians and the former will assume a leading role in developing productivity. The theory of the proletariat dictatorship will become outdated.

    “Second, the Bolsheviks’ proletariat dictatorship will quickly turn into a one-party dictatorship and then to a leader dictatorship. A society built on deceit and violence has built-in time bombs that will explode once the truth is made known.

    “Third, the Bolsheviks will experience four crises in the following order: famine, ideology, economy, and collapse. This may take several decades, but the outcome is inevitable.

    “Fourth, the greatness of a country does not lie in the vastness of its land or the richness of its history, but in its democratic traditions and standard of living. As long as its people still live in poverty and enjoy no democracy, it is hard to guarantee there will be no crises or eventual demise.”

    Regarding Marx and Russian communes I think that Marx was wasting his time on such possibilities. He missed to notice that working class conditions , around him in England,are improving and did not predict that because of mass production salaries of workers have to improve to enable them to buy those new products and that “The worker of the world has nothing to lose, but their chains,” would not be soon a truth.The bourgeois class was not sufficient to consume those new products of mass productions.

    How those peasant communes could lead to socialism is best shown in Mao’s China.
    Regards, sorry for my bad English.

    Comment by Gojko Rakic — January 14, 2019 @ 11:26 pm

  4. Great exposition. I never read Kautsky’s writings closely, so thank you Louis for the education, especially regarding his eugenics ideas. I had no idea he held such views.

    A few points:

    1) Darwin’s view of evolution took account of not only *evolutionary* and slow adaptation, but it also took account of *revolutionary* leaps. Most people ignore the latter when they make a caricature of Darwin’s ideas. So, even if you want to erroneously apply natural science ideas and concepts to social science, at least take account of the fact that sometimes societies don’t just go through pre-determined stages of evolution, but do have revolutions that throw up the whole scheme of things.

    2) Darwin did not propose the ‘survival of the *fittest*’ but the ‘survival of the *most adaptable*’. Two very different things. Dinosaurs were very fit, but did not adapt well (maybe a bad example, but the point stands).

    3) As for the eugenics part of Kautsky’s thinking, i.e., “let the unfit perish” so that the species can improve as a whole, here is where the Republican ‘healthcare’ policies seem to follow Kautsky’s ideas.

    Comment by Reza — January 14, 2019 @ 11:50 pm

  5. My own sense is that these guys like Kautsky precisely because of a predilection for pseudo-scientific waffle in the age of so-called identity politics.

    Comment by John Game — January 15, 2019 @ 1:13 am

  6. A quibble–forgive me Reza–but it’s nonsense to say that dinosaurs “did not adapt well”–in all their myriad forms, from the tiny to the titanic, they adapted superlatively well for well over 180 million years. Their descendants, the birds, are with us today despite our best efforts to render most of them extinct (except for chickens, of course). We should all adapt so badly.

    Darwin is often supposed to have said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Actually, he never said this–the quote was an attempt by a business-school prof named Leon Megginson to paraphrase the actual Darwin pronouncement, ““It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” Note Darwin’s use of the plural instead of the exemplary singular of Megginson’s B-school entrepreneurial fable.

    Horrors! Darwin wasn;t talking about The Entrepreneur after all!! How can this be?

    At all events, IMHO, the fusion of the Darwinian evolution with Mendelian genetics in the mid-twentieth century–given wings by the discovery of DNA, though unthinkable at one time–has removed the emphasis from the exemplary “surviving” individual and placed it on statistical observations of populations–a very different matter.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 15, 2019 @ 1:33 am

  7. I’m a bit disappointed to see Kautsky so expertly deflated–Lars Lih had led one to hope that he wasn’t so bad after all. Oh well.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 15, 2019 @ 1:35 am

  8. Thank you Farans for the corrections regarding the dinosaurs. I did mention that it may not be a good example.

    The point about adapting best and not ‘the fittest’, however, stands. As you quote, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ‘Those who can best manage change’ sounds like ‘most able to adapt’, no? Or, am I missing something?

    Comment by Reza — January 15, 2019 @ 1:58 am

  9. Sorry, but the sentence, “The point about adapting best and not ‘the fittest’, however, stands.” should have been:
    “The point about the ‘most adaptable’ not ‘the fittest’ being best able to survive, however, stands.”

    Comment by Reza — January 15, 2019 @ 4:12 am

  10. On Lars T Lih

    I think his rereading of Lenin is actually very useful, but where I think he goes wrong is that he dismisses the idea that Lenin made quite a clear break with Kautsky from 1914 onwards. The failure of the Second International and the SPD to oppose the First World War led Lenin to read and reinterpret Hegel, and realise that much of Kautsky’s theories were based on a complete misunderstanding of dialectics. This philosophical shift in Lenin meant he was much better equipped to deal with the ruptures that occurred during and after WWI than other left opponents of the war.

    Lih’s argument that post-1914, Lenin was demanding continuity from Kautsky and his followers, ignores this, and he suggests that actually Lenin didn’t shift his understanding of Marxism at all as a result of the war. I’m largely convinced by his analysis of Lenin’s thought pre-1914, how it was guided by Kautsky and the model of the SPD, but he underestimates the impact of the SPD’s failure on Lenin later on.
    It is interesting that reformist intellectuals are looking to revive Kautsky. Most reformists don’t usually bother trying to justify their reformism in Marxist terms these days; while Marxists shifting rightwards, in my experience, have tended to use obscure scholastic readings of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks to justify their latest enormities. At least this provides us with the opportunity of denouncing people as RENEGADES on the interwebs, which can only be a good thing.

    Comment by Tim N — January 15, 2019 @ 8:53 am

  11. Reza, no quarrel there (or with you in general, au contraire mon ami); however the important thing for modern evolutionary science is the emphasis on the group and the genetics of populations as opposed to the (highly misleading) emphsasis in some circles on the “surviving” individual, so easily converted by Great American Dummheit into The Story of a Man Who Goes Out and [Blah]

    The adaptability of the exemplary individual is all but irrelevant; scientists consider IMHO the adaptability of the population. An example might be the short-lived fruit fly, which (if I remember my freshman course after all these years) has different genotypes that are more or less expressed in the population under different circumstances to which the “type” is. better adapted-always allowing for continuing evolution.

    Of course modern genetics can be abused or subverted by ideologues quite easily–witness the aberrations of James Watson in his dotage, not to mention Jensen and that whole ruck of pseudoscientific liars–a long line descending from the outrageous Cyril Burt (who was, however, like Jensen and unlike Watson neither a geneticist nor an evolutionary biologist).

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 15, 2019 @ 2:31 pm

  12. A hundred years ago today, Rosa Luxemburg was brutally murdered in Berlin, beaten with gun butts before being shot in the head and having her body thrown into the Landwerh Canal. The killers were soldiers made callous by trench warfare. They belonged to the Freikorps who were subduing the Berlin Spartacist uprising by cannon-shot, machinegun fire and mass executions, under the orders of Noske, Sheidemann and Ebert. That night – she was arrested at about 9pm along with Karl Liebknecht who was murdered separately – the most brilliant socially-oriented mind of the times was obliterated, and a majority of her manuscripts were later destroyed. Fortunately for posterity “The Accumulation of Capital” and other published writings survived. And anyone wishing to better understand the fundamental link between profit capitalism and empire would be advised to read sections I & III of Rosa Luxemburg’s masterpiece (written in just four months of great exhilaration, according to a May 12 1917 letter to Diefenbach from the prison in Wronki where she had been incarcerated for opposing the war).
    Accessible at Marxists Internet Archives:
    Historical details from Paul Frölich’s “Rosa Luxemburg”, ed. Maspero, 1965

    Comment by kenneth couesbouc — January 15, 2019 @ 7:46 pm

  13. If Kautsky comes, can Bernstein be far behind?

    Comment by davidberger6799 — January 16, 2019 @ 1:53 am

  14. The Wikipedia-entry on Weikart suggests to treat his judgement on Kautsky with reservation:

    “Weikart wrote in The Human Life Review, published by an anti-abortion organization, that “Darwinism has indeed devalued human life, leading to ideologies that promote the destruction of human lives deemed inferior to others . . . Darwinism really is a matter of life and death.”[7] In an article published by Books and Culture: A Christian Review, he wrote “we need to counter our hedonistic, materialistic, and self-centered culture with true Christian compassion, self sacrifice, and self denial.”[8] Weikart is also a supporter of intelligent design.”

    I remember reading an article of Kautsky where he explicitly opposed the use of Darwinism in social science or politics, so quite the contrary view we are told about him. If you want to read more in depth articles on politics by Kautsky, check my handle for a list of translations (some never before translated in English, like his article on the Action of the Mass).

    Comment by Noa — January 16, 2019 @ 7:04 pm

  15. Noa, my advice is to read Kautsky’s “Are the Jews a Race” that is online at Marxists.org. It contains this sort of thing:

    “The Jews have suffered most from a uniformity of their conditions of life, since they have in their ranks but a modicum of variety in vocation, and since they lack particularly the invigorating influence of new accessions of peasant blood. And precisely in those regions in which they live together in great numbers, and where –therefore – the danger of in-breeding between blood-relations is smaller, their conditions of life are the most monotonous and unfavourable, and the dangers of vocational and social in-breeding become greatest for them. No stratum of the population has more to gain by an admixture of non-Jewish – more or less peasant-blood, than the Jews.”

    Comment by louisproyect — January 16, 2019 @ 8:02 pm

  16. Kautsky is arguing there against Zionist writers who believe that Jews should preserve their racial purity.
    As for the point about the influence of vocation on people’s physical health or characteristics, it has nothing to do with eugenics, but points to the need to change the oppressive social conditions that cause detrimental effects on people. In those days you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to guess what job a person did just by observing the comportment of their body, hands, etc. (an observation I steal from a 1896 work of Leo Buch on labor intensity).

    Comment by Noa — January 16, 2019 @ 8:26 pm

  17. Kautsky is arguing there against Zionist writers who believe that Jews should preserve their racial purity.


    Of course. The entire thrust of “Are the Jews a Race” is to extol race-mixing. In other words, it is the converse of W.H. Chamberlain but based on the same unscientific understanding of race. For Chamberlain, eugenics meant racial exclusivity–a la Trump. For Kautsky, it meant race-mixing.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 16, 2019 @ 8:36 pm

  18. Race-mixing is not the point of Kautsky’s book, which if I can give the TL;DR-version of is that people aren’t domesticated animals (from where the category of race is taken) and so any program to “breed” people to higher perfection is a non-starter.

    Comment by Noa — January 16, 2019 @ 8:48 pm

  19. I’m afraid you didn’t get my point. W.H. Chamberlain was about breeding. Kautsky simply deals with an accomplished fact that Jews benefited from being “mutts”. Another quote:

    The Jews have suffered most from a uniformity of their conditions of life, since they have in their ranks but a modicum of variety in vocation, and since they lack particularly the invigorating influence of new accessions of peasant blood. And precisely in those regions in which they live together in great numbers, and where –therefore – the danger of in-breeding between blood-relations is smaller, their conditions of life are the most monotonous and unfavourable, and the dangers of vocational and social in-breeding become greatest for them. No stratum of the population has more to gain by an admixture of non-Jewish – more or less peasant-blood, than the Jews.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 16, 2019 @ 8:57 pm

  20. In his arguments against Chamberlain Kautsky could have stuck to a modest “there’s no more harm in race-mixing than there is in racial purity”, rather than appear to overload his argument by the stronger suggestion that there are even benefits to it (though the stress in the quote is on vocational-mixing). However, even the modest claim still needs recourse to a “biological” argument, ie you have to show that racial purity is not of greater benefit than racial-mixing, which is what Kautsky successfully does in his response to Chamberlain.

    Comment by Noa — January 16, 2019 @ 9:26 pm

  21. When I was doing my research on LaRouche, I also tried to deal with the Kautsky issue. As the footnotes show, I drew on Traverse and Wistrich’s scholarship. although there is much more that needs to be done on this question.

    For what it’s worth from

    In the late 1950s after LaRouche returned to the active ranks of the SWP – after having effectively dropped out of the organization for a few years – he reports that he conducted research on ancient Babylonian society and that this research led him to a deeper understanding of Judaism as a “caste” pseudo-religion.100 LaRouche says that he discovered that Judaism was not a “real religion” but the production of a “caste” of merchant usurers initially based in Babylon. These merchant usurers then imported their pseudo-religion back to the Holy Land. Jewish “usury,” in short, long predated the Christian period and was in fact fundamental to Judaism’s very construction as a religion. LaRouche clearly glossed some of his arguments from Karl Kautsky and other “assimilationist” Marxists from both the 19th and 20th centuries. These theorists claimed that Judaism was so linked to European medieval society that the disappearance of medieval feudal society with the growth of capitalism heralded the end of Judaism. As Kautsky put it in Rasse und Judentum – a work that strongly argued against “racial” pseudo-science theory – “We will not have completely emerged from the Middle Ages as long as Judaism still remains among us. The more quickly it disappears, the better it will be for society and for the Jews themselves.” 101 Or to quote the Austrian Socialist leader Victor Adler, the elimination of both private property and the power of money “would finally lead the Wandering Jew to his tomb.”

    Neither Kautsky nor Adler were “political anti-Semites” and as leading Social Democrats they strongly opposed the anti-Semitic political parties of their time. Yet their crude economic reductionist interpretation of Judaism led both of them to dismiss demands for cultural and political autonomy that emerged from the Yiddish Renaissance movement in places like Austrian Galicia and Bukovina even as the Austrian Social Democrats supported the creation of Czech language schools in Vienna. Because Jews were a “caste” and not a “historical nation,” theoreticians like Kautsky and Adler said they had no right to demand any kind of political or cultural autonomy unlike the Catholic Czechs of “Bohemia.”

    The Western Left’s view of actual anti-Semitic parties was surprisingly cavalier, particularly when one recalls that this also was the time of renewed violent pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. The expression of anti-Semitic views often was written off as just a “first naive form of anti-capitalism” in the words of Austrian Socialist Otto Bauer.102 Nor, of course, was the reduction of Jews and Judaism to narrow economic categories unique to the Socialists. Max Weber, for example, defined “the Jews as a ‘caste’ or a ‘pariah people’ (Pariavolk) rooted in a form of “capitalism oriented toward speculation, a capitalism of pariahs’ (Pariakapitalismus).”103 Neither Kautsky nor Weber could ever imagine the coming of the Holocaust since they viewed both Judaism and anti-Semitism as relics of a medieval past rooted in pre-capitalist agrarian society. The fact that the worst pogroms took place in the most backward parts of Europe only seemed to prove the point.


    100 On LaRouche’s “Marxist” views of Jews and its roots in the late 1950s, see http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.MysteryBabylon, http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.CONCLUSIONRealKarlMarx, and http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.WhatKautskyReallySaid.

    101 Kautsky quoted in Enzo Traverse, The Marxists and the Jewish Question: The History of a Debate (1843-1943) (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1994) Also see Robert S. Wistrich, “German Social Democracy and the Problem of Jewish Nationalism 1897-1917,” in the Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook XXI (1976).

    102 Traverse, 66.

    103 Ibid, 213.

    104 LaRouche’s “explanation” of the Holocaust also reflected the crudest level of economic determinism which Tim Wohlforth pointed out in a polemic against LaRouche (“Lyn Marcus”). In a 16 December 1968 attack on LaRouche, Wohlforth pointed to LaRouche’s complete dismissal of anti-Semitic ideology. From Smiling Man from a Dead Planet:

    Wohlforth next turns to what he labels Marcus’s “most preposterous theory to date.” This was the notion that the Nazis killed six million Jews out of a “rational economic policy of primitive accumulation” and that Nazi race theory was merely an excuse for a logical capitalist policy. In contrast, Wohlforth pointed out that the Nazis used millions of non-Jewish foreign workers as forced labor while they sent the Jews to death camps. In reality, the persecution of the Jews actually wasted German resources that could have been rationally used for the war effort.

    See http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Librarv.ManvTheoriesofLMarcus. LaRouche repeats his same “explanation” of the Holocaust. See Lyn Marcus, Dialectical Economics (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1975), 408-11. Here LaRouche writes:

    The Nazi military machine and its operations represented the armed force that sustained German capital as capital.
    The Second World War was absolutely not an adventure undertaken by Hitler to appease the inclinations of the Wehrmacht High Command. Germany’s military undertakings were launched over the strong objections of the High Command, which was systematically purged to “overcome” such objections. The Second World War was imposed on German “militarism” by hysterical demands for immediate loot of the “smoke-stack barons” and financiers. (410)

    As for the concentration camps, they were merely the logical extension of the turn of German capitalists to an “auto-cannibalistic economy.” According to LaRouche:

    As a further measure of capitalist economy, the welfare rolls within the concentration camps were successfully reduced by the mass extermination practices applied to the weak, the aged, women, children, depleted slave labor, and other unemployables. (409)

    LaRouche can not bring himself to admit the fundamental ideological role of Nazi anti-Semitism in the creation of the extermination camps. Instead he wants to pretend that all this is simply an example of capitalism at work. In his ostensible discussion of the causes of the Holocaust, he can’t even bear to utter the word “Jew.” By the late 1970s, LaRouche would declare that Hitler was more or less a pawn of the Rothschilds.

    Possibly the closest parallel to LaRouche’s view can be found in the ultra-leftist writings of Amadeo Bordiga, the Italian Marxist sectarian widely believed to be the author of the 1960 “Auschwitz, or the Great Alibi” first published in a French Bordigist journal called Programme Communiste. Some leading French Bordigists (most prominently Pierre Guillaume) later became active in the Holocaust Denial movement in France. For the article, see http://webcache.aoogleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:hF AS4MttVsJ:www.marxists. org/archive/bordiga/works/1960/auschwitz.htm+bordigist+holocaust&cd=8.

    Comment by HH — January 16, 2019 @ 11:39 pm

  22. Perhaps Kautsky’s error re race lies in an assumption–nearly universal at the time?–that “race” is a necessary biological category. Whether you advocate racial purity or race mixing, the concept of race itself does not seem to be challenged in any fundamental way. If you advocate mixed breeding you are still talking about breeding, no? If I mix black and white pigments to get gray, both black and white remain essential concepts … .

    AFAIK, from a modern scientific perspective–Watson and other reactionaries to the contrary notwithstanding–both “racial purity” and “race mixing” in the 19th century sense are nonsense.

    Even Watson and ilk, one suspects, are not looking at race in this essentialist way, but are rather executing a kind of intellectual flanking maneuver by looking at alleged (and not really demonstrable) characteristics of certain populations. (As I recall, Cyril Burt faked his statistics when applying this type of rationale to social class.) This would be a big departure from the racial ideas implied both by Chamberlain and Kautsky … .

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 17, 2019 @ 11:36 am

  23. Race in humans is nonsense from a modern scientific standpoint. Kautsky set out to criticize (or if you prefer – de-essentialize) race theories (the book’s title properly translated is Race and Jewry – the English title I think gives a misleading impression). When he uses the word “race” it is in a colloquial sense that we’re still stuck with even today, eg statements prohibiting discrimination almost unavoidably use the term race: like in a UN convention: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set out therein, without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, colour or national origin”. If you want to ban the word race in relation to humans, that’s fine by me of course.

    Incidentally, Kautsky’s book appeared in Soviet Russia in 1918 edited by Yuri Larin.

    Comment by Noa — January 17, 2019 @ 1:39 pm

  24. To criticize and to de-essentialize are not identical. If you advocate race mixing, you are necessarily referring to a concept of race that is essential in the same way in which red and white pigments are essential if you want to mix them and get pink. You are free to advocate pure red and pure white of course, but both the “mix” idea and the “pure” idea are fruits of the same conceptual tree.

    If Kautsky really did advocate race mixing, his starting point necessarily must have been an essential concept of race. The argument would have to be between purists and mixers.

    Race is “essential” here in at least two senses: 1) it’s ontologically indispensable because you can’t mix (or separate) two things that don’t really exist; and 2) It’s deeply important and has to be dealt with.

    Science now teaches us (wow that feels good!) that this whole “discussion” as the liberals like to put it is as it were inessential and does not have to be raised. Big difference. And indeed, even assholes like Watson in his dotage don’t as far as I know talk about race mixing.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 17, 2019 @ 8:14 pm

  25. When I speak of deep importance re race, I mean deep biological importance. Race the construct in society is not a biological fact, but of course people suffer and die because of it every day.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 17, 2019 @ 8:17 pm

  26. Louis quoted Kautsky: “This difference [in willingness to visit a physician] between Jew and non-Jew is at bottom again merely a difference between city-dweller and country-dweller.” Louis feels more like the country-dweller. But surely Kautsky’s assumption that Jews were largely city-dwellers at that time in Europe, and moreover that they lived in restricted vocational and physically-damaging conditions (as city-dwellers) are uncontroversial and highlights Kautsky’s stress on social factors determining a “people” (if we want to avoid the term “race”), and is no evidence of his belief in a scientific value to biological race in humans. I could even read the communist demand to abolish the distinction between city and country into Kautsky’s call for assimilation.

    Comment by Noa — January 17, 2019 @ 9:58 pm

  27. Kautsky was a proponent of cities as advanced forms of society, something I cite in his views on the impact of Babylon on Jewish monotheism.

    I see nothing in this to support some idea of racial determinism with regard to the Jews and I think the idea is wrong that Kautsky was in his maturity some kind of racial socialist. It’s true that eugenics had a leftist appeal starting with Marx’s son-in-law, the notorious Edward Aveling, and it’s too bad that Engels seemed as seduced by Aveling as Eleanor.

    In any case, as far as I can tell, Kautsky was someone whose failure in a way was to ignore or paper over “racial” in the 19th century sense of different peoples in Europe, which led to a weak view of the dangers of anti-Semitism and national identity in general. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this history, but my impression is that the Bolsheviks always had it out for the Bund because the Bolsheviks didn’t want to alienate the Orthodox working class types in Russia by appearing too pro-Jewish, just as People’s Will sort of apologized for the outbreak of pogroms as anti-capitalist actions in the 1880s in order to remain on (illusory) good terms with the peasants. In any case, my point here is that these questions of “national” or “racial” identity in the common use of these terms was a huge problem both then and today. If anything, the SWP seemed to pride itself in its embrace of Black Nationalism as a racial/national category unlike other groups like the CPUSA, after it broke from the Black Belt thesis. Again, I’m not an expert on this history but that’s my impression. I always had the sense the CPUSA was on the DuBois wing of things while the SWP was more open to Malcolm X early on. In any case, I’m just using this as an example of how these issues remain conundrums for the Left well past the holy texts of a Lenin or Kautsky, both of whom strike me as social assimilation types par excellence and who believed a proletarian identity trumped all else.

    Thus I don’t think this was Kautsky’s failure alone, to put it mildly.

    When World War I broke out, the Second International collapsed because its idea of proletarian internationalism trumping national/cultural/racial identity was shown up as a happy illusion.

    In any case, I don’t see Katustky’s views on Jews in the ancient world as having any “racial” component in a Social Darwinian sense.



    Appendix to Mystery Babylon and the Wonders of Atlantis Revealed!

    In the December 1973 “Feuerbach” Campaigner article, Lyndon LaRouche’s notorious footnote on Judaism made it clear that he believed Judaism never was a valid religion even in its “pre-Christian form.”1 When LaRouche also asserts that the “only rational view” to understand “the Jewish Question” is his “own analysis of the evolution from Egyptian-Mesopotamian ‘hydraulic’ into Hellenic culture,” his use of the word “hydraulic” highlights the fact that he considered ancient Judaism a by-product of an Asiatic Mode of Production (AMP)-based society. He further claims that a “self-subsisting Judaism never existed and never could exist” because pre-Philo Judaism (“the earlier, Hebrew doctrine”) was in reality “a syncretic hodge-podge of chiefly Mesopotamian legends.” In fact:

    Ezra’s Persian version of Hebrewism was, in turn, significantly influenced by an earlier pre-Pentateuch version created in conformity with Babylonian edicts. . . . From Ezra onwards, and even before, Hebrewism was an assimilationist doctrine developed to provide special juridical status (and ideological self-image) for a caste of merchant-usurers within a pre-capitalist society.
    In his footnote LaRouche praises two books, Karl Kautsky’s Foundations of Christianity – which he describes as Kautsky’s “one truly important contribution” to history – and Abram (Abraham) Leon’s The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation.2 By so doing, LaRouche implies that both authors are in agreement with his views.

    But is it really the case?

    In this appendix I want to examine Leon and Kautsky’s views of ancient Babylon. Yet since neither Kautsky nor Leon are well known, some quick background notes are in order. Karl Kautsky was a long-time leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and an acknowledged expert on the ideas of Marx and Engels. He died in exile in Amsterdam in 1938, having first fled the Nazi seizure of power in Germany in 1933 and later Hitler’s takeover of Austria. As for the far more obscure Abram Leon, he was born in Warsaw but for most of his life he lived in Brussels. Active in the left-wing Zionist organization Hashomer Hatzair, he also spent a year as chairman of the Belgian Zionist Federation. In 1940, however, he abandoned Zionism and became a Trotskyist. Not long after the Allied invasion of Normandy, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz where he was murdered in a Nazi gas chamber at age 26.3

    In his footnote, LaRouche writes of Leon:

    Despite some jarring notes of orthodox mechanistic “Marxist-Leninist” economic theory, the work of the 26-year old Leon is a remarkable masterpiece, which no defender of “Jewish cultural nationalism” has ever attempted to rebut by any other means than invective. This writer’s own analysis of the evolution from Egyptian-Mesopotamian “hydraulic” into Hellenic cultures, and Hellenic cultures’ supersession by feudalism and then capitalism provide the “political economic” context in which Leon’s situation of the “Jewish Question” becomes the only rational view.
    In other words, LaRouche claims that his previous work on the “hydraulic” (AMP) world of ancient Mesopotamia in the 1950s provides the real “political economic” context that Leon failed to develop in his own book. Leon’s views had no impact on LaRouche’s earlier study of Babylon for the simple reason that LaRouche only came across Leon’s book after it was reissued in 1970. Although Leon’s book mentions Babylon only in passing, it is still worth briefly mentioning before we take a closer look at Kautsky precisely because Leon’s remarks contradict LaRouche.

    From Leon:

    Certain historians attribute an important role to the Babylonian exile in the transformation of the Jews into a commercial people. In Babylonia, “the Jews became transformed into a commercial people, such as we know them in the economic history of the world. They found highly developed economic relations among the Babylonians. Recently uncovered cuneiform texts show that the exiled Jews participated actively in commercial life. They were involved in credit business, highly developed among the Babylonians; they were also big traders.” [Leon here is quoting from a 1929 work by Lujo Brentano.]
    Leon then continues:

    But the dispersion of the Jews is certainly prior to Babylonian exile. There are serious reasons for conceding the existence of a pre-exile Diaspora. The scope of the Jewish exile under Nebuchadnezzar is very greatly exaggerated. Only a part of the ruling classes was hit by the measures of the Babylonian king. The majority of the Jews established in Palestine continued to live there. Consequently during the Persian epoch the Jews were to be found spread over all parts of that enormous Empire . . . it would be childish to view this fact as a consequence of the Babylonian exile, an exile which lasted altogether some fifty years. It is equally puerile to believe that the Jewish people returned to Palestine in the period of Ezra and Nehemiah. Their work was primarily of a religious character. It was a matter of rebuilding the temple and of reconstituting a religious metropolis for dispersed Judaism. Most historians have considerably exaggerated the role of Palestinian Judaism in the Persian epoch. . . . In reality, in this epoch, the Jews of Judea represented only a part, and the smallest, of Judaism. And undoubtedly it was the least vital part. . . . During the Persian epoch the principal colonies of the Diaspora were situated in Mesopotamia, in Chaldea, and in Egypt.4
    Leon wrote his study after he had broken from left-wing Zionism. He clearly wanted to highlight the international character of Judaism and possibly for that reason he stressed that Judaism should not simply be defined in a narrow way that only focused on Babylon and Jerusalem. The point here, however, is that Leon’s argument about the significance of both Babylon and Jerusalem is in sharp contrast to LaRouche’s views.


    As for Kautsky, his book Foundations of Christianity first appeared in Germany in 1908 as Der Ursprung des Christentums. Although an earlier English edition existed, in 1953 it was re-translated by Henry Mins, a member of the board of Science and Society. Although LaRouche praises Kautsky, he never cites from Kautsky’s actual book. And with good reason. Nowhere in Kautsky’s almost 400-page work is there a description of the Jewish exile in Babylon that remotely resembles anything asserted by LaRouche. For one thing, Kautsky does not analyze Babylon using an “AMP” template. Kautsky’s interest in Babylon is merely one small aspect of a much larger story that he is trying to tell.

    However, like LaRouche, Kautsky does believe that the Babylonian exile had a significant impact on Judaism’s future religious development. Yet for Kautsky that effect was largely positive. Kautsky argues that it was the exposure of the Jews to the far more advanced culture of Babylon that encouraged them to embrace monotheism. Nor does Kautsky say anything about the Jews being “a caste of merchant-usurers with a pre-capitalist society” or that Judaism was somehow an ideological concoction to rationalize usury. As for Babylon itself, Kautsky viewed it one of the most advanced and cosmopolitan societies of the ancient world, a vast entrepot filled with sophisticated thinkers and institutions. In contrast, the Jews who went there came from one of the many cultural backwaters of the ancient world. From Foundations of Christianity.

    Another powerful stimulus to Jewish thought must have been the magnificence of the city of Babylon with its millions of inhabitants, its world-wide trade, its ancient culture, its science and philosophy. Just as in the first half of the last century a stay in the Babylon on the Seine [Paris] elevated German thinkers and spurred them to their highest and best works, so must staying in the Babylon on the Euphrates in the sixth century B.C. have affected the Jews from Jerusalem and burst open their horizons. In Babylon, however, as in all the Oriental commercial centers that were not situated on the Mediterranean coast but inland, science remained mixed up with religion and bound to it, for reasons we have pointed out. In Judaism too, all the new strong impressions came through in religious form.5
    From Babylon: “The priesthood of Judea borrowed the pretensions of the Babylonian hierarchy, and also adopted many of their religious notions. A whole series of legends in the Bible are of Babylonian origin: for example, the Creation of the world, Paradise, the Fall, the Tower of Babel, the Deluge. The strict observation of the Sabbath is equally Babylonian.6 The Jews also learned something else in the great city, monotheism:

    It may be safely assumed although there is no direct evidence, that the Jewish priesthood learned not only popular legends and customs from the lofty Babylonian hierarchy, but also a higher, more spiritual conception of the divinity . . . . In contrast to the naive ideas of God among the Israelites, many of the priests among the civilized peoples that surrounded them had attained monotheism, at least in their secret teachings.7
    For example, “Just at the time of the Jewish Exile, when a sort of monotheism was becoming predominant among the Persians, now in contact with Babylon, there are signs that “in Babylonia too the germ of a monotheism had been planted, which must have had a strong similarity to the Pharonic sun-cult of Amenophis IV (Amenhotep).”8

    Kautsky then states:

    It was easy for the Jews in exile, among whom those from Jerusalem predominated, to accept the monopolistic position of the Temple at Jerusalem. Under the influence of Babylonian philosophy and their own national catastrophe, and perhaps of the Persian religion, which developed in a similar direction at much the same time as the Jewish religion and came into contact with it, stimulating it and perhaps receiving stimulation from it as well – under all these influences the efforts of the priests to create a monopoly for their fetish took the form of an ethical monotheism in which Jahveh was no longer merely the particular tribal god of Israel but the only god in the world, the personification of the good, the sum and substance of all morality.
    Thus, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem from captivity, their religion had developed so highly and become so spiritual that the crude religious ideas and practices of the Jewish peasants who had been left behind must have seemed to them no more than revolting heathen abominations. If it had not yet taken place, it was now possible for the priests and masters of Jerusalem to see to it that these competitive provincial cults were done away with and the monopoly of the Jerusalem hierarchy permanently established.
    Thus Jewish monotheism arose. It was ethical in nature, like that of the Platonic philosophy, for example. But among the Jews the new concept of the deity did not arise outside of religion, as with the Greeks; it was not propounded by a class standing outside the priesthood. Thus the one God did not appear as a new god, standing above and outside of the old world of gods, but as a reduction of the old society of gods to a single most powerful god, standing closest to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that is to the old warrior, ethical, tribal and local god, Jahveh.
    This introduced a number of knotty contradictions into the Jewish religion. As an ethical god Jahveh is God of all mankind, since good and bad are concepts that are taken as absolute, as valid for all men alike. And as an ethical god, as personification of the moral idea, the one God is everywhere, as morality is considered to be universally valid. But for Babylonian Judaism religion and the Jahveh cult were also their strongest national link; and any possibility of reestablishing their national independence was inseparably linked to the reconstruction of Jerusalem.9
    As a result Judaism faced the challenge of trying to resolve the “strange contradictions” between the particular and the universal:

    These are strange contradictions, but contradictions which come out of life, out of the contradictory position of the Jews in Babylon. There they had been placed within a new civilization which revolutionized their whole way of thinking, while all the conditions of their lives drove them to conserve their old traditions as the only way to conserve their national existence, which had become so especially dear to them; for a difficult position lasting for centuries had developed their national feeling to an unusually marked degree. The task of the thinkers of Judaism was to reconcile the new ethics with the old fetishes and to reconcile the narrow views of a little mountain people with the knowledge of the world and of life achieved by the broad civilization centering around Babylon.10
    If I am reading him correctly, Kautsky’s view of the impact of Babylon on the Jewish exiles is similar to that other scholars who stress the positive impact that the advanced society of Egypt had on the far more backward Greeks. For Kautsky, then, Babylon is a great cosmopolitan city filled with spectacular wonders.11


    Given Kautsky’s actual views, it seems obvious that when LaRouche positively cited Kautsky’s long forgotten book he was bluffing big time. But where did LaRouche really derive his hatred of Babylon? The simple answer seems to be that he imbibed it from his fundamentalist Protestant family. Years later LaRouche would say as much when he stated that he derived his special interest in ancient Mesopotamia from his “Bible-thumping” grandfather George Weir. Protestant fundamentalist hatred of Babylon went hand in hand with attempts to discredit both Roman Catholicism and Judaism as illegitimate pagan sects. One contemporary example of this once-commonplace argument is the wildly anti-Jewish pamphlet Anti-Semitism and the Babylonian Connection by a Christian fundamentalist writer named Des Griffin.12 I cite Griffin in particular because his books were translated into German and promoted by Ekkehard Franke-Gricksch’s CODE, the same organization that the NCLC worked closely with from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s; a connection that is extensively documented elsewhere on LaRouche Planet.13

    Here is Griffin on Christ’s clash with the Pharisees: “It was the Truth of God against the Babylonian religion of Satan. Christ understood the occult philosophy which motivated the Pharisees. It was of their father the devil (John 8:44).”14 A few pages later, Griffin writes:

    Following the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the Jewish people were expelled from Palestine by the Romans. Because of bitter reprisals and persecutions waiting for them in the west, they had no alternative but to return to Babylon, to the east. Of course, most Jews still lived in Babylon from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but when the Palestine Jews returned they found it a veritable land of promise in contrast to war-torn Palestine.
    It was during this same time that the Jews created the Babylonian Talmud, which Griffin claims is a Satanically-inspired text:

    The Talmud, the ultimate authority in Orthodox Judaism, plumbs the depths of moral and spiritual depravity. It reveals an obsessive hate of the gentiles and strives to justify the most obscene practices acquired during the Pharisees’ one thousand year sojourn in Babylon, the moral cesspool of antiquity. It also defends the Pharisee’s addiction to many of the vices of ancient Babylon. In addition, the Talmud reveals a massive acceptance of the Satanically-inspired Babylonian “culture” by Jewish leadership. This culture, which was purely occult in nature, included practically everything that was contrary to God’s law – demon worship, sorcery, sexual depravity, and demonic traditions that originated with Nimrod and his spiritually deranged wife, Semiramus. The Occult Babylonian System was (and still is!) the very antithesis of God’s revealed will! It is this occult philosophy (“the cause, source or origin of anything; that from which a thing proceeds”) of Babylon which dominates Talmudic Judaism today! (Italics in the original)15
    It is this very same idea of an occult Satan-like conspiracy that LaRouche projected onto the British monarchy and Jewish investment bankers beginning in the late summer of 1977.

    For our purposes here, however, it seems obvious that when LaRouche claimed Kautsky as an intellectual ally in 1973, he simply assumed that no one would bother to fact-check his assertion.


    See the December 1973 “Feuerbach” Campaigner (pgs. 30 and 37 in particular).
    See Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity (New York: Russell & Russell, 1953) and Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (New York: Pathfinder, 2001). The Jewish Question was first published in English in 1950 in Mexico by Ediciones Pioneras. This first English edition was a limited run and is exceedingly rare. The Jewish Question, however, was reprinted in France in 1968 as La conception materialiste de la question juive (Paris: Études et documentation internationals, 1968). It came with an introduction by the famous Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson. Thanks to Rodinson, The Jewish Question attracted renewed attention even though in his introduction Rodinson criticizes Leon’s idea of the Jews as a “people-class.” A new English-language edition was issued by the SWP’s Pathfinder Press in 1970. LaRouche drew on The Jewish Question for his superficial gloss on Jewish history both in his New Solidarity article and also in Dialectical Economics.
    On Leon, see Ernest Mandel’s biographical sketch in the Pathfinder edition.
    Leon, 99-100.
    Kautsky, 190.
    In the late 19th century German archaeologists brought back sections of the ancient walls of Babylon such as the famed Ishtar Gate. Kautsky would have been well aware of these spectacular finds.
    Des Griffin, Anti-Semitism and the Babylonian Connection (Colton, OR: Emissary Publications, 2007). This pamphlet was first published in 1988.
    See “Breaking the CODE” now posted on LaRouche Planet at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/downloads/HH%20FACTNET%20%20%20CODE%20FACTNET%20POSTS.pdf for more.
    Griffin, 19.

    Comment by HH — January 18, 2019 @ 6:17 am

  28. “I see nothing in this to support some idea of racial determinism with regard to the Jews and I think the idea is wrong that Kautsky was in his maturity some kind of racial socialist.”


    “weak view of the dangers of anti-Semitism and national identity in general. […] the Bolsheviks always had it out for the Bund because the Bolsheviks didn’t want to alienate the Orthodox working class types in Russia by appearing too pro-Jewish […] these issues remain conundrums for the Left well past the holy texts of a Lenin or Kautsky, both of whom strike me as social assimilation types par excellence and who believed a proletarian identity trumped all else. Thus I don’t think this was Kautsky’s failure alone, to put it mildly.”

    Lenin’s criticism of the Bund came not from pandering to anti-Jewish bigots, but from the need for working class unity threatened by the Bund’s identity politics (cf. Jenny Bourne’s ‘Homelands of the mind: Jewish feminism and Identity Politics’, Race & Class, July 1987), a politics which is still a conundrum for the left today. The notion that socialists were blind to the dangers of anti-Jew hatred is almost slanderous, however we may judge the effectiveness of their response to it (but if you want to argue that a hypothetical alternative Bundist-sensitive/inspired response would have been more effective, then this requires some elaboration at least).

    Comment by Noa — January 18, 2019 @ 9:10 am

  29. I think it’s too simple to say that Lenin’s opposition to the Bund was “the Bund’s identity politics.” It assumes “identity politics” is by definition bad but it’s the bread and butter of American leftism for decades now.

    In any case, It seems to me the Bund was trying to integrate the identity of its own workers both culturally and as socialists. The Bund was part of the founding of the RSDLP after all. It wasn’t just “identity politics.” The Bundists were socialists.

    As for the socialists, as I said, Kautsky and others believed incorrectly alas that Antisemitism and Judaism were part and parcel of a backward agrarian culture that both would be eliminated by modernity via secular Enlightenment. They didn’t ignore the issue; they didn’t understand it just as they never understood the power of national identity as the collapse of the Second International at the beginning of WWI vividly demonstrated.

    That’s why I think it’s wrong to think that Kautsky was somehow a racial determinist or something similar. But many people thought this because before World War I, there was a tremendously optimistic view of progress and the march of the enlightenment as overwhelming cultural and economic backwardness. In English historiography this is sometimes called “the Whig interpretation of history.”

    The world looked very different before August 1914.

    Whether such a view is “almost slanderous” is up to you but I think that’s the way Kautsky and most of the Socialists saw things as they saw history as very much on their side.

    Comment by HH — January 18, 2019 @ 10:43 am

  30. “Kautsky and others believed incorrectly alas that Antisemitism and Judaism were part and parcel of a backward agrarian culture that both would be eliminated by modernity via secular Enlightenment. They didn’t ignore the issue; they didn’t understand it just as they never understood the power of national identity as the collapse of the Second International at the beginning of WWI vividly demonstrated. ”

    Kautsky predicted the world war, it was pretty clear to most observers at the time. The war was caused by capitalist interests, not on account of any power of cultural-national identity (or mankind’s violent nature, as Freud would have it). Kautsky didn’t differ with Luxemburg on the prospect of barbarism (btw according to Kautsky the phrase “socialism or barbarism” belongs to Marx himself).

    Judaism is of course a remnant of the Middle Ages (if not older), just like we say Christian or Islamic religion are. That the progress of history hasn’t yet dissolved religions shows only the need for continued relentless socialist agitation religion.

    Incidentally Louis, I tried to find some Russian/Yiddish enlightened Jewish polemical/theoretical writings against Judaism, without much success (cf. Martov’s father, Aleksander Zederbaum, maybe you have more luck).

    Comment by Noa — January 18, 2019 @ 11:46 am

  31. Thanks for making clear your interpretation of WWI as well as your views of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and, indeed, all religions.

    Comment by HH — January 18, 2019 @ 12:49 pm

  32. “Judaism is of course a remnant of the Middle Ages (if not older), just like we say Christian or Islamic religion are. That the progress of history hasn’t yet dissolved religions shows only the need for continued relentless socialist agitation religion.”

    It’s a complete misunderstanding of the nature of religion to claim it is just a “remnant” of pre-capitalist societies. The larger world religions have their roots there, certainly, but other than that, such a view doesn’t make much sense. For example, Protestantism has its roots in the emergence of capitalist relations, and its conflict with feudal relations.

    If religion were just a remnant of the Middle Ages, why would Christian ideas spread during the growth of capitalism? Why would it be so inextricably bound to imperialism?

    More generally, religion continues to play a very important function within bourgeois society. It is a product of alienation. It is many Marxists’ failure to understand this which has led them to make all kinds of mistakes with regards to religion. Rather than treat it as a necessary and understandable part of capitalist society, they see it as an anachronism, and approach it in a bourgeois idealist manner – all they need to do is educate and explain and these ideas will disappear. It is this failure that is at the root of many Marxists’ inability to understand the problem of anti-semitism, and Islamophobia for that matter. Both religion, and religious intolerance, are not remnants of feudal society, they are a necessary feature of capitalism.

    Comment by Tim N — January 18, 2019 @ 12:50 pm

  33. I see very little Marxists today trying to counter religious ideas. As Lenin complained, communist polemics against religion are generally of poor quality in comparison to the sharpness of the bourgeois atheists, see Holbach’s brilliant Common Sense, or Jean Meslier’s Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier (translated in 2009).

    Comment by Noa — January 18, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

  34. Louis quoted Kautsky: “This difference [in willingness to visit a physician] between Jew and non-Jew is at bottom again merely a difference between city-dweller and country-dweller.”

    Kautsky, like Zola and many another, appears in this case, perhaps unconsciously, to be under the influence of Taine here–race, milieu, et moment–another illustration of a bourgeois conceptual foundation from which K. perhaps never really succeeded in freeing himself.

    Despite obvious overlaps, there are important functional differences between such a conceptual bias, which we can detect here and in the passage on race-mixing Lois quotes, and an ideological parti pris or even a world-view (e.g. the way the world is supposed to have looked to a normal [i.e. European] human being before 1914).

    Nevertheless, the hackneyed opposition of city and country dweller as cited here is an empty truism that apears to have been chosen for its emptiness. Real historical, social, and economic distinctions between rural and urban, bourgeois, peasant, and factory-worker are obviously important for Marx’s, Kautsky’s, and Lenin’s times. But they are here reduced to a mere Aesopian cliche, as perfunctory and mechanical as a Biedermeyer marquetry motif.

    Despite all the defeats and calamities, Lenin and Trotsky remain indispensable, but why Kautsky?

    Was Kautsky, like Marx himself, really capable of a true higher-order synthesis, or does he appeal to e.g. the Jacobin crowd of discouraged socialists (and academic careerists) because his eventual capitulation to the politics that failed so drastically in the Weimar Republic suggest that we too must yield willy-nilly to the existing order?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 18, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

  35. “33.I see very little Marxists today trying to counter religious ideas.” Really? We clearly move in different circles. In my experience, there are plenty of Marxists that are unnecessarily obsessed with religion. The problem isn’t that Marxists aren’t as good at it as bourgeois atheists, the problem is that most Marxists don’t seem to have anything further to add; they just splice some vulgar version of liberal Enlightenment theory (which in its day could often be more nuanced than any current incarnations that claim to be in its tradition) onto their Marxism. There’s little if any attempt to address the role of religion in capitalism, or approach religious people in a humanist way.

    It’s not Marxists’ role to “disprove” religion. Science did that a long time ago. The role of socialists should be to attempt to construct alternative forms of consciousness through solidarity which transcend religious identity and ideology.

    Comment by Tim N — January 18, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

  36. Farans wrote:: “but why Kautsky? Was Kautsky, like Marx himself, really capable of a true higher-order synthesis, or does he appeal to e.g. the Jacobin crowd of discouraged socialists (and academic careerists) because his eventual capitulation to the politics that failed so drastically in the Weimar Republic suggest that we too must yield willy-nilly to the existing order?”

    The Jacobin crowd, and as is only proper to the political nature of the DSA, does well to try to reconnect, in a very modest way, with figures of the socialist movement such as Kautsky – I’d suggest also to check (rather than Debbs) the founder of the SP, Morris Hillquit and the later organ The New Leader (Louis has access to its archive, so perhaps he can make some articles available). That is, what else do you except, that they sing the praises of Joseph Hansen? Kautsky is the foremost defender of Marxism, and this at least raises historical consciousness and open the space for Leninists not merely to rehash some lines from their copy of Lenin’s Renegade Kautsky, but to try to revisit in more depth the Second International and come up with an analysis of its real problems and pitfalls.

    Comment by Noa — January 18, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

  37. God-bothering is well-nigh universal in the U.S. these days, even among “progressives.” Almost any reference to social discontent will draw an injunction either to campaign and vote for some Democrat, to pray, or both.

    “After all, we know so little.” IMHO, the problem isn’t what we don’t know but what we do know and are compelled to deny, most of which has nothing to do with “god.”

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 18, 2019 @ 2:38 pm

  38. “Despite all the defeats and calamities, Lenin and Trotsky remain indispensable, but why Kautsky?

    Was Kautsky, like Marx himself, really capable of a true higher-order synthesis, or does he appeal to e.g. the Jacobin crowd of discouraged socialists (and academic careerists) because his eventual capitulation to the politics that failed so drastically in the Weimar Republic suggest that we too must yield willy-nilly to the existing order?”

    I think it’s a bit more mundane than that. We have a number of socialists who have decided to orientate towards the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and are rifling through their bookshelves to find some Marxist justification for that. The Eurocommunists did the same with Gramsci. Kautsky has the added benefit of there being clear blue water separating him from the Bolsheviks. We can probably expect more of this sort of thing.

    Comment by Tim N — January 18, 2019 @ 2:57 pm

  39. Kautsky is … foremost… .

    Merely to assert this makes no case unless the case for the speaker’s infallibility. Defending Marx against whom for what purpose given the historical bad result? If Kautsky winds up giving us a Biedermeier Marx, are we still obliged to ponder his every word? Marx’s backbiting re K. isn’t terribly encouraging.

    The world is full of infallible Marxists, not only in the Platypus Society, and they have a tendency to devour each other like a jar full of praying mantises. How is a mere citizen to know which is the true oracle?

    But point taken, it’s easier to read a bit of K. than to grind on about a few Significant Details. There’s a lot of him on the Intertubes.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 18, 2019 @ 3:09 pm

  40. I just read James Muldoon’s minuscule pro-Kautsky puff-piece in Jacobin. Incredibly, the lynchpin of Muldoon’s case is his bald assertion that Kautsky, unlike Lenin and those other bad guys, believed in “democracy.” Democracy full stop with no indication whatever of what that actually means.

    Does he mean democracy in the ancient Athenian sense? Democracy in the way in which the various popular assemblies of the Roman Republic were democratic? Parliamentary Democracy? Democracy as practiced by the wing of the U.S. billionaire class that chooses to put on the Democratic Party?

    What exactly was undemocratic about the original Russian Soviets anyway?

    To ask such a question is antidemocratic.

    What an asshole. I’m not quite convinced that Kautsky himself is to be blamed for this–and obviously Lih is a higher-order intellect than Muldoon–but wow! This is pure DP propaganda aimed precisely at the audience Tim N. is talking about.

    OK I’ve prolonged this more than enough.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 18, 2019 @ 3:32 pm

  41. I said I’d shut up and I will, but one thing about the Muldoon piece that galls me is his implying that the mass political movement led by the working class, which he advocates based on Kautksy, exists primarily for the purpose of running candidates in elections and getting them into office.

    I’ve always felt that a real political party–as opposed to the fraudulent Republican and Democratic antiparties that don’t even offer actual membership, could and maybe shouldrun candidates in “bourgeois” elections, but that such a party would also be a living and incorruptible presence in the lives of citizens, for whom otherwise politics is merely another televised spectacle. Such a party could be joined, would have a local contact whom you could call up and talk to, and in aid of this would have some kind of (for want of a better word) “professional” core of activists who both were and would appear to be essentially incorruptible and dedicated to serving the people. It would organize strikes and other kinds of mass actions, would seek to form contacts with parties abroad that were similarly constituted, and would provide mutual aid and develop in embryo institutions and best practices of governance that could be implemented post revolution.

    Without the idea of such a concrete and tangible presence, the term “mass movement” IMHO may be all but meaningless.

    Is Muldoon’s Kautsky the real Kautsky–maybe, as the AAMCO guy used to say, and maybe not.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 18, 2019 @ 3:58 pm

  42. it is true that Lenin was favorably disposed to Kautsky up until 1917

    I think this is a typo. Should be “up until 1914.”

    Comment by Ross Wolfe — July 5, 2019 @ 9:39 pm

  43. […] organization. (Admittedly the proponents of this had their own wide spectrum of shortcomings, such as also subscribing to eugenics and arguments that colonialism could be a force for good, but our major policymakers today in both parties also subscribe to that grotesque spectrum, which […]

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