VI Lenin and the Influence of Kautsky
Picture the situation. It is Vladimir Ilych Lenin’s 50th birthday in April 1920. The Bolsheviks have been fighting the civil war and, although they are in a pretty desperate situation in the spring, they can see victory as pretty much assured, and they are celebrating the occasion with their great hero and great leader, Lenin. He rather reluctantly comes out onto the stage and says that he would like to read out a rather long quotation by Karl Kautsky from a 1902 work, ‘Slavs and revolution’. Lenin also inserted the same page-and-a-half-long quote into Leftwing communism: an infantile disorder.
He introduced it in this way: “I’d like to say a few words about the present position of the Bolshevik Party, and was led to these thoughts by a passage from a certain writer written by him 18 years ago in 1902. This writer is Karl Kautsky, who we have at present had to break away from and fight in an exceptionally sharp form [which is putting it rather politely!], but who earlier was one of the vozhdi, the leaders of the proletarian party in the fight against German opportunism, and with whom we once collaborated. There were no Bolsheviks back then [before the 1903 congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party], but all future Bolsheviks who collaborated with him valued him highly.”
So, on this great occasion, Lenin tells the audience that the person they had been fighting and whom they had all been looking down upon really was a great guy. He read out the quotation which still thrilled him. That for me is significant. I wonder how shocked some of the people must have been.
A couple of weeks later the Second Congress of the Communist International met and Lenin did the same thing. He referred again to the same long quote in Leftwing communism
and repeated his appreciation of Kautsky: “When he was a Marxist, how well he wrote!” I imagine a lot of the people in both audiences - those at his birthday and those present at the Second Congress - were surprised to hear anything like that.
After all, following 1914 you could read tremendous polemics against Kautsky, where Lenin seemed unable to think of enough bad names for him. But it is clear that Lenin still had a soft spot for him - in his heart and also in his thinking. People on the left have all grown up with the idea of the “renegade Kautsky” - indeed, I gather many actually think “renegade” is his first name, as they have never heard him called anything else! And there is a long list of other things we have learnt about him - ie, that he was a passive and mechanical determinist, not very revolutionary, Darwinist, and so on and so forth.
We are told that in 1914 Lenin managed to see through not only Kautsky, the person (which he clearly did), but also what he stood for. Then we are told that this led Lenin to finally settle accounts with Kautskyism root and branch, that there was a massive rethinking of Marxism. Kautsky was associated with the Second International and so that was also bad. That is how the Kautsky-Lenin relationship is generally thought of. And, of course, there are people on the other side of the political spectrum who have the same idea of Kautsky versus Lenin - except that they like Kautsky!
full article ...http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/783/vileninandtheinfluence.php