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Karl KAUTSKY, economist. Founder, Editor, Die Neue Zeit, 1883-1917; German Secretary State Foreign Affairs, 1918.


KAUTSKY, Karl was born in 1854 in Prague, Austro-Hungary.


Kautsky joined the German Social Democratic Party as a student. After graduating he worked under Bernstein on the official Social Democratic newspaper, travelled to Paris and to London, before founding Die Neue Zeit. This became the main theoretical journal of Marxism before the First World War, and Kautsky remained its editor until 1917.

He played a major role in the drafting of the SPD party manifesto, the Erfurt Programme, and from 1900 was engaged in polemics with Bernstein on the right of the party and with Luxemburg on the left. For most of the war he was in the minority anti-war faction of the party, and from 1917 was engaged in a long-running polemic against Lenin and the Bolsheviks. He played a leading role in drafting the programme of the revived Social Democratic Party at Heidelberg in 1925.

Having emigrated to Prague after the Dolfuss coup of 1934 in Austria, he moved to Holland just before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia.

In the two decades that separate the death of Engels (1895) from the outbreak of war in 1914, Kautsky was the leading Marxist theoretician, defending the version of Marxism that had been handed on by Engels. This viewed Marxism as a determinist science of history, devoid of value judgements, committed to no theories about human nature or the nature of human emancipation or fulfilment, and hostile to the idea that the spontaneous will-power of committed individuals can play a significant role in historical development. It attached little weight to Hegel’s influence on Marx.


  • Founder, Editor, Die Neue Zeit, 1883-1917. German Secretary State Foreign Affairs, 1918.



And of course Kautsky wrote in ignorance of much of Marx’s earlier writings, which had not then been published. But he was prepared to make minor amendments to the Marxist system, for example in his claim that ‘socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without’ by members of the intelligentsia. The success of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in seizing power in 1917 and Kautsky’s condemnation of their methods combined to sideline the kind of Marxism he represented in favour of the

Leninism Stalinism that became historically dominant.