Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

On the Formation of Marxism: Karl Kautsky's Theory of Capitalism, the Marxism of the Second International and Karl Marx's Critique of Political Economy

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

On the Formation of Marxism: Karl Kautsky's Theory of Capitalism, the Marxism of the Second International and Karl Marx's Critique of Political Economy

Article excerpt

Jukka Grunow, On the Formation of Marxism: Karl Kautsky's Theory of Capitalism, the Marxism of the Second International and Karl Marx's Critique of Political Economy (Leiden: Brill, 2016)

BEGINNING IN the 1860s and continuing into the final decade of the century, the working-class movement revived in Europe and spread in areas of the continent and European settler-colonial territories in which it had not previously emerged. Although the crushing of the Paris Commune, repressive legislation in Germany, and other attacks by state authorities and employers dealt the movement setbacks, and the long Great Depression of the late-19th century worsened the lives of many of those it sought to organize, proletarian organizers succeeded in uniting a significant minority of their expanding class into new parties, unions, and a range of community-based workers' organizations.

This movement was ideologically heterogeneous. However, by the time most of its parties came together to form the Socialist International in 1889 the school of thought dubbed Marxism by its principal exponents was increasingly influential. The foremost of these theorists was Karl Kautsky (1854-1938), whose eminence after the death of Karl Marx's collaborator Frederick Engels in 1895 led some to call him "the Pope of Marxism." Kautsky played an important role in creating and popularizing what came to be called Marxism (a name he deliberately used, in emulation of Darwinism) and in engaging in a battle of ideas against other theories within the Social Democratic Party in Germany and beyond. In debates within the Socialist International between the closing years of the 19th century and the outbreak of World War I, he was the leading figure of the orthodox "centre," pitted against the avowedly reformist "revisionists" and later also against the revolutionary "left." It is this contribution to shaping the ideological dimension of the working-class movement of his time that makes Kautsky significant; unlike Marx, there is no reason why people interested in social and political thought for our times would turn to Kautsky. That said, Kautsky's hand in creating the "Marxism--a system that must not be equated with Marx's thought, from which it differed in fundamental ways--that was diffused through the Socialist International and, indirectly, through the Communist International and its dissident offshoots is insufficiently appreciated (although the 21st century scholarship of Lars Lih has highlighted Kautsky's influence on Lenin).

In this light, the reappearance of Jukka Grunow's study of Kautsky's thought is noteworthy. Originally published in 1986 as a dissertation in sociology, it has been republished by Brill in a slightly different form, with an introduction that discusses more recent scholarship, as a volume of its Historical Materialism series (edited by editors of the journal of the same name). The book is organized in two parts: "Kautsky's Marxism" (some seventenths of the main body of the text) and "Marx's Marxism." Part One is focused on Kautsky's theory of capitalism, including imperialism, although it also contains chapters on Kautsky's politics and Lenin's polemics against them in 1917-1918. Part Two is made up of four chapters that discuss aspects of Marx's thought in relation to that of John Locke, Adam Smith, and other political economists, in dialogue with a number of German Marxist writers of the 1970s and early 1980s, with only occasional references to Kautsky.

Grunow argues that Kautsky's "interpretation of Marx's Capital fails to pay attention to the specific character of Marx's theory as a critique of political economy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.