[Classics] The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky

Appendix II: Vandervelde’s New Book On The State

It was only after I had read Kautsky’s book that I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with Vandervelde’s Socialism versus the State (Paris, 1918). A comparison of the two books involuntarily suggests itself. Kautsky is the ideological leader of the Second International (1889–1914), while Vandervelde, in his capacity of Chairman of the International Socialist Bureau, is its official representative. Both represent the complete bankruptcy of the Second International, and both with the dexterity of experienced journalists “skilfully” mask this bankruptcy and their own bankruptcy and desertion to the bourgeoisie with Marxist catchwords. One gives us a striking example of what is typical of German opportunism, ponderous, theorising and grossly falsifying Marxism by trimming it of all that is unacceptable to the bourgeoisie. The other is typical of the Latin—to a certain extent, one may say, of the West-European (that is, west of Germany)—variety of prevailing opportunism, which is more flexible, less ponderous, and which falsifies Marxism by the same fundamental method, but in a more subtle manner.

Both radically distort Marx’s teaching on the state as well as his teaching on the dictatorship of the proletariat; Vandervelde deals more with the former subject, Kautsky with the latter. Both obscure the very close and inseparable connection that exists between the two subjects. Both are revolutionaries and Marxists in word, but renegades in practice, who strain every effort to dissociate themselves from revolution. Neither of them has anything that permeates the works of Marx and Engels, and that actually distinguishes socialism from a bourgeois caricature of it, namely, the elucidation of the tasks of revolution as distinct from the tasks of reform, the elucidation of revolutionary tactics as distinct from reformist tactics, the elucidation of the role of the proletariat in the abolition of the system, order or regime of wage-slavery as distinct from the role of the proletariat of the “Great” Powers which shares with the bourgeoisie a particle of the latter’s imperialist superprofits and superbooty.

We shall quote a few of Vandervelde’s most important arguments in support of this opinion.

Like Kautsky, Vandervelde quotes Marx and Engels with great zeal, and like Kautsky, he quotes from Marx and Engels anything you like except what is absolutely unacceptable to the bourgeoisie and what distinguishes a revolutionary from a reformist. He speaks volubly about the conquest of political power by the proletariat, since practice has already confined this within strictly parliamentary limits. But as regards the fact that after the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels found it necessary to supplement the partially obsolete Communist Manifesto with an elucidation of the truth that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, but must smash it—not a single word has he to say about that! Vandervelde and Kautsky, as if by agreement, pass over in complete silence what is most essential in the experience of the proletarian revolution, precisely that which distinguishes proletarian revolution from bourgeois reforms.

Like Kautsky, Vandervelde talks about the dictatorship of the proletariat only to dissociate himself from it. Kautsky did it by gross falsifications. Vandervelde does it in a more subtle way. In the part of his book, Section 4, on the subject of the “conquest of political power by the proletariat”, he devotes sub-section b to the question of the “collective dictatorship of the proletariat”, “quotes” Marx and Engels (I repeat: omitting precisely what pertains to the main point, namely, the smashing of the old, bourgeois-democratic state machine), and concludes:

“. . . In socialist circles, the social revolution is commonly conceived in the following manner: a new Commune, this time victorious, and not in one place but in the main centres of the capitalist world.

“A hypothesis, but a hypothesis which has nothing improbable about it at a time when it is becoming evident that the post-war period will see in many countries unprecedented class antagonisms and social convulsions.

“But if the failure of the Paris Commune, not to speak of the difficulties of the Russian revolution, proves anything at all, it proves that it is impossible to put an end to the capitalist system until the proletariat has sufficiently prepared itself to make proper use of the power the force of circumstances may place into its hands” (p. 73).

And absolutely nothing more on the point at issue!

Here they are, the leaders and representatives of the Second International! In 1912 they signed the Basle Manifesto, which explicitly speaks of the connection between that very war which broke out in 1914 and a proletarian revolution, and actually holds it up as a threat. And when the war broke out and a revolutionary situation arose, the Kautskys and Vanderveldes began to dissociate themselves from revolution. A revolution of the Paris Commune type is only a not improbable hypothesis! This is quite analogous to Kautsky’s argument about the possible role of the Soviets in Europe.

But that is just the way every educated liberal argues; he will, no doubt, agree now that a new Commune is “not improbable”, that the Soviets have a great role to play, etc. The proletarian revolutionary differs from the liberal precisely in that he, as a theoretician, analyses the new significance of the Commune and the Soviets as a state. Vandervelde, however, passes over in silence everything Marx and Engels said at such length on the subject when analysing the experience of the Paris Commune.

As a practical worker, as a politician, a Marxist should have made it clear that only traitors to socialism can now evade the task of elucidating the need for a proletarian revolution (of the Commune type, the Soviet type, or perhaps of some third type), of explaining the necessity of preparing for it, of conducting propaganda for revolution among the people, of refuting the petty-bourgeois prejudices against it, etc.

But neither Kautsky nor Vandervelde does anything of the sort, precisely because they themselves are traitors to socialism, who want to maintain their reputation as socialists and Marxists among the workers.

Take the theoretical formulation of the question.

The state, even in a democratic republic, is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another. Kautsky is familiar with this truth, admits it, agrees with it, but . . . he evades the fundamental question as to what particular class the proletariat must suppress when it establishes the proletarian state, for what reasons, and by what means.

Vandervelde is familiar with, admits, agrees with and quotes this fundamental proposition of Marxism (p. 72 of his book), but . . . he does not say a single word on the “unpleasant” (for the capitalist gentlemen) subject of the suppression of the resistance of the exploiters!

Both Vandervelde and Kautsky have completely evaded this “unpleasant” subject. Therein lies their apostasy.

Like Kautsky, Vandervelde is a past master in the art of substituting eclecticism for dialectics. On the one hand it cannot but be admitted, and on the other hand it must be confessed. On the one hand, the term state may mean “the nation as a whole” (see Littrés dictionary—a learned work, it cannot be denied—and Vandervelde, p. 87); on the other hand, the term state may mean the “government” (ibid.). Vandervelde quotes this learned platitude, with approval, side by side with quotations from Marx.

The Marxist meaning of the word “state” differs from the ordinary meaning, writes Vandervelde. Hence, “misunderstandings” may arise. “Marx and Engels regard the state not as the state in the broad sense, not as an organ of guidance, as the representative of the general interests of society (intérêts généraux de la société). It is the state as the power, the state as the organ of authority, the state as the instrument of the rule of one class over another” (pp. 75–76 of Vandervelde’s book).

Marx and Engels speak about the abolition of the state only in its second meaning. . . . “Too absolute affirmations run the risk of being inexact. There are many transitional stages between the capitalist state, which is based on the exclusive rule of one class, and the proletarian state, the aim of which is to abolish all classes” (p. 156).

There you have an example of Vandervelde’s “manner”, which is only slightly different from that of Kautsky’s, and, in essence, identical with it. Dialectics repudiate absolute truths and explain the successive changes of opposites and the significance of crises in history. The eclectic does not want propositions that are “too absolute”, because he wants to push forward his philistine desire to substitute “transitional stages” for revolution.

The Kautskys and Vanderveldes say nothing about the fact that the transitional stage between the state as an organ of the rule of the capitalist class and the state as an organ of the rule of the proletariat is revolution, which means overthrowing the bourgeoisie and breaking up, smashing, their state machine.

The Kautskys and Vanderveldes obscure the fact that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie must be replaced by the dictatorship of one class, the proletariat, and that the “transitional stages” of the revolution will be followed by the “transitional stages” of the gradual withering away of the proletarian state.

Therein lies their political apostasy.

Therein, theoretically, philosophically, lies their substitution of eclecticism and sophistry for dialectics. Dialectics are concrete and revolutionary and distinguish between the “transition” from the dictatorship of one class to the dictatorship of another and “transition” from the democratic proletarian state to the non-state (“the withering away of the state”). To please the bourgeoisie, the eclecticism and sophistry of the Kautskys and Vanderveldes blur all that is concrete and precise in the class struggle and advance instead the general concept “transition”, under which they may hide (as nine-tenths of the official Social-Democrats of our time do hide) their renunciation of revolution!

As an eclectic and sophist, Vandervelde is more skilful and subtle than Kautsky; for the phrase, “transition from the state in the narrow sense to the state in the broad sense”, can serve as a means of evading all and sundry problems of revolution, all the difference between revolution and reform, and even the difference between the Marxist and the liberal. For what bourgeois with European education would think of denying, “in general”, “transitional stages” in this “general” sense?

Vandervelde writes:

“I agree with Guesde that it is impossible to socialise the means of production and exchange without the following two conditions having been fulfilled:

“1. The transformation of the present state as the organ of the rule of one class over another into what Monger calls a people’s labour state, by the conquest of political power by the proletariat.

“2. Separation of the state as an organ of authority from the state as an organ of guidance, or, to use Saint-Simon’s expression, of the government of men from the administration of things” (p. 89).

Vandervelde puts this in italics, laying special emphasis on the importance of these propositions. But this is a sheer eclectical hodge-podge, a complete rupture with Marxism! The “people’s labour state” is just a paraphrase of the old “free people’s state”, which the German Social-Democrats paraded in the seventies and which Engels branded as an absurdity.[42] The term “people’s labour state” is a phrase worthy of petty-bourgeois democrats (like our Left Socialist-Revolutionaries), a phrase which substitutes non-class concepts for class concepts. Vandervelde places the conquest of state power by the proletariat (by one class) alongside of the “people’s” state, and fails to see that the result is a hodge-podge. With Kautsky and his “pure democracy”, the result is a similar hodge-podge, and a similar anti-revolutionary, philistine disregard of the tasks of the class revolution, of the class, proletarian, dictatorship, of the class (proletarian) state.

Further, the government of men will disappear and give way to the administration of things only when the state in all forms withers away. But talking about this relatively distant future, Vandervelde overlays, obscures the task of tomorrow, namely, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

This trick is also equivalent to subserviency to the liberal bourgeoisie. The liberal is willing to talk about what will happen when it is not necessary to govern men. Why not indulge in such innocuous dreams? But about the proletariat having to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance to their expropriation—not a word. The class interests of the bourgeoisie demand it.

Socialism versus the State. This is Vandervelde’s bow to the proletariat. It is not difficult to make a bow; every “democratic” politician knows how to make a how to his electors. And under cover of a “’bow”, an anti-revolutionary, anti-proletarian meaning is insinuated.

Vandervelde extensively paraphrases Ostrogorsky[43] to show what amount of deceit, violence, corruption, mendacity, hypocrisy and oppression of the poor is hidden beneath the civilised, polished and perfumed exterior of modern bourgeois democracy. But he draws no conclusion from this. He fails to notice that bourgeois democracy suppresses the working and exploited people and that proletarian democracy will have to suppress the bourgeoisie. Kautsky and Vandervelde are blind to this. The class interests of the bourgeoisie, in whose wake these petty-bourgeois traitors to Marxism are floundering, demand that this question be evaded, that it be hushed up, or that the necessity of such suppression be directly denied.

Petty-bourgeois eclecticism versus Marxism, sophistry versus dialectics, philistine reformism versus proletarian revolution—that should have been the title of Vandervelde’s book.


[42] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 357.

[43] Lenin refers to the book by M. Ostrogorsky, La Democratie et les Partis Politiques,which was first published in Paris in 1903. The Russian edition of the first volume appeared in 1927 and the second volume in 1930. The book contains rich factual material on the history of Britain and the U.S.A., which exposes the falsehood and hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy.

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