This is a useful and complex article on the legacy of Kautsky and it shows that it is all too easy to ‘garbage in garbage out’ along the faultline of revolution/reformism. The complexity of Kautsky’s personal history makes his thinking tricky to use and I am not sure I have understood his trajectory fully nor the citation of the Finnish exemplar and its significance. Without rejecting the revolutionary alternative we have also been critical of leninism/bolshevism, without adopting social democratic compromise. The article cites from Kautsky a number of the hopeless difficulties of revolutionism, e.g. the power of the modern state that has left behind the era of barricade revolution. Is the question hopeless, not by a long shot
We have constructed an idea of ‘virtual revolution’ as a way to remind the reformist of the advantages of a revolutionary moment in the re-foundation of a given whole as against the fragments of issue politics that haunt the hare-brained evolutionary path. That conceptual exercise can remind the reformist of the near equal futility of this mishmash against the seeming impossibility of the revolution.
In all of this our larger critique of marxism has pointed, beyond revolutionism or reformism, to vagueness of the terms ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ and the way that this makes the task of change almost impossible. Our more carefully defined, if still incomplete, ‘democratic market neo-communism’ as an exercise or model shows at once that there is a range of possibilities beyond social democracy that nonetheless takes its disposition past the barrier of expropriation yet is realizable in the mode of liberal system. Like old fashioned armies that send soldiers in full dress into battle as sitting ducks in regimental line, the older formulations are cut to pieces in their definitional abstraction. Modern armies are more fluid and use camouflage, etc… The point of the analogy is not deception but to see that if we can create a communism that is still a liberalism and vice versa we have simplified the task without compromising its integrity. Marxists have never quite known what they were pointing to. Our DMNC functions fully as a revolutionary refoundation, and yet is sufficiently ‘camouflaged’ as liberalism as to make the ideological collision of opposites obsolete. But this may still be naive: the expropriation of capital is a de facto drastic step that the bourgeoisie would resist. And yet even here we can consider that our model would be attractive to some elements of the bourgeoisie given the reality of the crisis to come. Our model expropriates, but it still leaves a corporate entity structural intact. A capitalist becomes a manager of an entity whose structure is a market entity, but using resources licensed from a Commons. We cannot be sure as to the question of revolution: the coming crisis may surprise us with its destructive force. Looking at the US we see a system moving into political psychosis. At some point it will start to collapse and in any case its functioning has become so horrific (corruption of the EPA, public health be damned, climate change is fake news, etc…) that the crucial moment of collapse, especially given the accelerating climate catastrophe, may well come to resemble the forced revolution of the era of the first world war. At some point those caught in passivity will suddenly rise and smite a monster in motion like the US.
This article is a strong challenge to the leninist mind set and Jacobin has taken a lot of flack in general for this kind of stance. But the article makes points the older left can’t ignore in the way it lingers over lenism forgetting who Kautsky was.
We have also indicated how our DMNC is designed to at least in principle be adaptable to a reformist and electoral path. It is a very attractive option for the working or any class and remorphs the old rather than indicates its destruction.
In any case a figure like Kautsky is elusive for the general left with no access even to the writings of someone like Kautsky from a large university library
Karl Kautsky’s vision for winning democratic socialism is more radical, and more relevant, than most leftists care to admit.