Karl Kautsky

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Karl Johann Kautsky

Karl Johann Kautsky (born October 16, 1854 in Prague , Austrian Empire , † October 17, 1938 in Amsterdam , Netherlands ) was a German - Czech philosopher and social democratic politician.

Life and work

Youth and politicization (1854–1879)

Karl Kautsky was the son of an Austrian mother and a Czech father. His mother Minna Kautsky , nee Jaich, was an actress and writer . His father, Jan Kautsky , worked as a theater painter . He was the uncle of the Austrian chemist Hans Kautsky .

In 1863 the family moved to the Austrian capital Vienna . Kautsky attended the Stiftsgymnasium Melk and the Academic Gymnasium Vienna . In Vienna he was branded and discriminated against as a "half-breed" by classmates and teaching staff. In the political center of Austria the racist idea was widespread that the Slavs were inferior. As he later wrote himself, this aroused a deep hatred of the Habsburg monarchy in Kautsky. As a result, the independence of the Czech Republic and the proclamation of the “Bohemian Republic” became the political ideals of his youth.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871 he sympathized accordingly with France , which he saw as an ally of the Czech independence movement. During the uprising of the Paris Commune , Kautsky became enthusiastic about the institutions of the Commune, the ideal of direct democracy , and popular property . Accordingly, his interest turned to socialism .

In an autobiographical newspaper article, he states that in addition to the relevant socialist literature, he also dealt intensively with Heinrich Heine , Henry Thomas Buckle , John Stuart Mill , Charles Darwin , Ernst Haeckel and Max Buchner .

Even before starting his studies at the University of Vienna , he joined the SDAP in 1874 . Kautsky's subjects philosophy , history, and economics had already been chosen with a view to his political interests. For this reason, among other things, he managed to become one of the most influential journalists in the social democratic press with articles written under the pseudonym “Symmachos” during his student days .

Marxism and Social Democracy (1880–1899)

Between 1880 and 1882 Kautsky worked for the private scholar Karl Höchberg in Zurich . There he made friends with the social democrat Eduard Bernstein and began to deal with Marxism . In 1881 he met Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on a trip to London . In 1883 he founded the magazine Die Neue Zeit , whose publisher and chief editor he remained until 1917. He wrote political and historical studies and became an authority on Marx's theory.

He lived in London from 1885 to 1890 and was close friends with Friedrich Engels. After the fall of the Socialist Law in 1890, he returned to Germany and lived in Stuttgart from 1890 to 1897 , where Die Neue Zeit was published. In 1891, together with August Bebel and Eduard Bernstein , he prepared the Erfurt program of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). On the basis of Marxist theory, he strived for a socialist society in Germany. After the death of Friedrich Engels, Kautsky became the most important and influential theoretician of the SPD and, as the spokesman for an “ orthodox Marxism ”, stood alongside August Bebel in the party's “Marxist center”.

Revisionism Debate and Criticism of Imperialism (1900-1914)

In 1903 Kautsky made a name for himself in the party as a critic of Bernstein's revisionism , mediating between the reform-oriented party leadership and the radical left. In 1909 he published the book The Road to Power . In the mass strike debate in 1910, Kautsky turned against Rosa Luxemburg's concept of revolution, which relied more on spontaneous revolutionary currents in the working class. In the late summer of 1914, the party links around Karl Liebknecht , Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin finally broke with Kautsky, because Kautsky did not oppose the war course of the SPD leadership and the truce policy decisively enough at the outbreak of the First World War .

Like Rudolf Hilferding , Hugo Haase , Karl Liebknecht and others, Kautsky developed critical positions on the overall phenomenon of imperialism from around 1900 , which can only be abolished by socialism. In 1912, however, he turned around and advocated the thesis of a possible ultra-imperialism , in which a cartel of states could replace imperialist competition and thus eliminate the arms race and the danger of war. Lenin sharply criticized this view from 1915/17 and accused Kautsky of revisionism.

First World War, November Revolution and USPD (1914-1919)

Karl Kautsky with Georgian Social Democrats in Tbilisi , 1920

In the spring of 1916, Kautsky, together with his friend Hugo Haase and his former opponent Eduard Bernstein, came out against the aggressive German war policy. As a result, all three were isolated from the party leadership. In 1917 Haase, Wilhelm Dittmann , Kautsky, Bernstein and others founded the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), which fought the war course of the Reich government and its support by the majority social democracy .

As a result of the November Revolution of 1918, Kautsky became Undersecretary of State in the Foreign Office as a representative of the Council of People's Representatives . He spent months studying the Office's documents from 1914 and in February 1919 presented a memorandum on the large part of the German Bethmann Hollweg government in the war guilt. However, Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann prevented the memorandum from being published because he believed it would damage the German position in the Versailles peace negotiations . It was not until the end of 1919 that the German documents on the outbreak of war , based on Kautsky's collection, were published - too late to influence Versailles. In addition, Kautsky was active in the first socialization commission , which he chaired.

In 1918 Kautsky turned sharply against the October Revolution in Russia and justified this in the text The Dictatorship of the Proletariat . In 1918, Kautsky turned down the offer to succeed Lujo Brentano as professor of economics at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich , which Max Weber accepted. When the USPD moved to the left in 1919/20, he was soon isolated there, left the party in 1919 and returned to the SPD in 1922.

Weimar Republic, Vienna, emigration (1920–1938)

In 1924 Kautsky went back to Vienna. In 1925 he was co-author of the Heidelberg program of the SPD, which again emphasized the fundamental opposition of the SPD to capitalism after the Görlitz program of 1921 had focused on a reform policy.

After the " Anschluss of Austria " to the National Socialist German Reich in March 1938, Kautsky emigrated to the Netherlands and lived in Amsterdam until his death in October of the same year .

The grave of Karl Kautsky in the Westerveld cemetery. The tombstone also reminds of his wife Luise.

Kautsky as a historian and theorist

Beyond his political significance as a representative of the “Marxist center” in the current political disputes of social democracy, Kautsky's enduring life achievement is his work as a historian and theoretician of Marxism. For example, Kautsky dealt intensively with the history of religion and, with his work The Origin of Christianity, provided a historical-materialistic examination of early Christianity , which sought to deal with the Protestant theology and historical Jesus research of its time. Kautsky saw early Christianity as a plebeian-proletarian revival movement, which, however, became the support of the ruling elite in post-Constantinian Rome through the papacy. The development was completed by celibacy , which prevented the inheritance and privatization of church property; Kautsky interpreted it as an instrument of capital accumulation . Kautsky also dealt intensively with the Reformation , especially with the religious-communist and utopian currents such as Thomas Müntzer, which were previously underestimated in Marxism .

Personal and keepsake

Memorial plaque on Saarstrasse 14 in Berlin

Kautsky's first marriage from 1883 to 1889 with Louise Kautsky, b. Strasser (1860–1950), who after the divorce became Friedrich Engels' secretary in London. From 1890 he was with Luise Kautsky , geb. Ronsperger (1864–1944) married. He lived for two years at Saarstrasse 14 in Berlin in the then independent country house colony of Friedenau , where a plaque commemorates him today.

Karl and Luise Kautsky had three sons: the gynecologist Karl Kautsky (1891–1938), Felix Kautsky (1892–1953) and the SPÖ politician Benedikt Kautsky (1894–1960). The chemist Hans Kautsky and the Austrian theater painter, stage and costume designer Robert Kautsky were his nephews.

Rosa Luxemburg , who lived at nearby Cranachstrasse 58 in Schöneberg , was close friends with Luise Kautsky.

In 1994 the Kautskygasse in Vienna- Floridsdorf (21st district) was named after him.

In January 2010 the Socialist Youth of Germany - Die Falken - opened their federal office under the name "Luise & Karl Kautsky-Haus" in his old house in Berlin .


Karl Kautsky's estate is administered by the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis in Amsterdam.

  • The influence of the population increase on the progress of society. 1880.
  • Karl Marx's economic teachings. 1887. 13th edition 1910: rsl.ru , 14th edition 1912: archive.org
  • Thomas More and his utopia. 1888. ( Digitized 2nd complete edition, Stuttgart 1907 )
  • Friedrich Engels. 1887.
  • The Class Contrasts of 1789: On the 100th Anniversary of the Great Revolution. 1889.
  • The basic part of the Erfurt program is explained. 1892. Third edition. 1899 digitized
  • Parliamentarism, popular legislation, and social democracy . 1893, archive.org .
  • The forerunners of modern socialism. 1895. (2 volumes)
  • The Agrarian Question: An Overview of the Trends in Modern Agriculture and the Agricultural Policy of Social Democracy. 1899. 2nd edition. 1902 digitized
  • Bernstein and the Social Democratic Program: An Anti-Criticism. JHW Dietz Nachf., Stuttgart 1899, digitized .
  • The social revolution. 1902.
  • Ethics and materialistic conception of history. 1906.
  • Karl Kautsky, Bruno Schönlank: Principles and demands of social democracy. 4th edition Berlin 1907, digitized version and full text in the German Text Archive .
  • The origin of Christianity. 1908.
  • The way to power. 1909.
  • The changes in gold production and the changing character of inflation . Dietz, Stuttgart 1913, archive.org .
  • Race and Judaism. 1914
  • Nation state, imperialist state and confederation of states. 1915.
  • Alsace-Lorraine. A historical study. Dietz, Stuttgart 1917.
  • The dictatorship of the proletariat. 1918.
  • The historic achievement of Karl Marx: on the 25th anniversary of the master's death . 2nd edition 1919, archive.org .
  • How the world war came about. Paul Cassirer, Berlin 1919. New edition Elektrischer Verlag, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-943889-33-8 .
  • Terrorism and communism. A contribution to the natural history of the revolution. 1919.
  • The international. 1920.
  • The proletarian revolution and its program. 1922.
  • The materialistic conception of history. 1927. (2 volumes)
  • War and democracy. 1932. (3 volumes)
  • Limits of violence. Prospects and effects of armed uprisings of the proletariat. Graphia, Karlsbad 1934.
  • Memories and discussions. 1960.


Contemporary and sources

  • Karl Renner : Karl Kautsky. Sketch on the history of the intellectual and political development of the German working class. Dedicated to her teacher Kautsky on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. JHW Dietz successor publisher, Berlin 1929.
  • Otto Jenssen (ed.): The living Marxism. Ceremony for the 70th birthday of Karl Kautsky. With contributions by Max Adler , Otto Bauer , Alfred Braunthal , Benedikt Kautsky u. a. Thuringian Publishing House, Jena 1924 (Reprint Auvermann, Glashütten 1973).
  • VI Lenin : The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky. In: Lenin: Works. Berlin 1955–1962, Vol. 28, pp. 225–327.
  • Leon Trotsky : Terrorism and Communism. Anti-Kautsky. Dröge, Berlin 1978, ISBN 3-88191-009-3 .

Biographies and biographies

  • Harald Koth: "My time will come again ..." The life of Karl Kautsky. Dietz, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-320-01819-1 .
  • A life for socialism. Memories of Karl Kautsky. Dietz, Hanover 1954.
  • Werner Blumenberg : Werner Blumenberg, Karl Kautsky's literary work. 's-Gravenhage 1960 (most extensive bibliography of Karl Kautsky's writings).
  • Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey : The mandate of the intellectual. Karl Kautsky and Social Democracy. Siedler, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-88680-220-5 (At the same time: Dissertation, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, 1985, under the title: Karl Kautsky - Medium and Power of an Intellectual in the German Social Democratic Party ).
  • Günter Regneri: Luise Kautsky. Soul of international Marxism - friend of Rosa Luxemburg (= Jewish miniatures . Vol. 134), Hentrich & Hentrich, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-942271-82-0 .
  • Horst Klein: Testimony to a lifelong friendship and spiritual community: the correspondence between Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky from 1891 to 1932 . In: Work - Movement - History . Yearbook for research on the history of the labor movement, year 2013, issue 3.
  • Till Schelz-Brandenburg: Under the spell of Marxism. The correspondence between Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky 1879 to 1932. Böhlau, Cologne 1992, ISBN 3-412-05892-0 (At the same time: dissertation, University of Bremen 1991).
  • Hans-Josef Steinberg : Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein. In: Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German historians. Volume 4, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1972, ISBN 3-525-33315-3 (= Kleine Vandenhoeck series ; Volume 346/348), pp. 429-440.
  • Norbert readers:  Kautsky, Karl. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 11, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1977, ISBN 3-428-00192-3 , p. 373 f. ( Digitized version ).

Theory and political impact

  • Georg Fülberth : Karl Kautsky's work 'Der Weg zur Macht' and his controversy with the party executive of the SPD 1909. In: Karl Kautsky: Der Weg zur Macht. Appendix: Kautsky's controversy with the party executive. Edited and introduced by Georg Fülberth. European Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1972, ISBN 3-434-45012-2 .
  • Matthias Lemke : Republican Socialism. Positions by Bernstein, Kautsky, Jaurès and Blum. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York, NY 2008, ISBN 978-3-593-38600-3 .
  • Erich Matthias : Kautsky and Kautskyanism. The function of ideology in German social democracy before the First World War. In: Iring Fetscher (Ed.): Marxismusstudien, 2nd episode. Tübingen 1956, pp. 151-197.
  • Hans-Jürgen Mende : Karl Kautsky. From Marxist to opportunist. Study on the History of Historical Materialism. (Ed. By the Academy for Social Science at the Central Committee of the SED). Dietz, Berlin (GDR) 1985, DNB 850538548 .
  • Jukka Gronow: 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 , Brill, Leiden 2016, ISBN 978-90-04-30664-6 .

Historical background

Web links

Commons : Karl Kautsky  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Karl Kautsky  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ William M. Johnston: Austrian cultural and intellectual history. Society and ideas in the Danube region 1848 to 1938. Böhlau, Vienna 2006, ISBN 978-3-205-77498-3 , p. 114.
  2. ^ Karl Johann Kautsky: Autobiographical Scetch. In: The Social Democrat. 1902.
  3. ^ Karl Kautsky: The agrarian question. Dietz, Berlin 1899, SV
  4. ^ VI Lenin: The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky. In: Lenin: Werke , Berlin 1955–1962, Vol. 28, pp. 225–327
  5. ^ Heinrich Ströbel: Wrong moves. In: Die Weltbühne No. 26, June 19, 1919
  6. ^ Heinrich August Winkler : Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-406-37646-0 , p. 88.
  7. Hartmut Henicke: Workers' movement and Reformation reception from the Vormärz to the First World War. Insights and Limits. In: Work - Movement - History , issue 2/2017, pp. 86-105, here pp. 95ff.