Kautsky, Karl

Kautsky, Karl
   A noted German-Austrian socialist, Karl Kautsky was born in Prague of middle class Jewish parents. He studied history and philosophy at Vienna University and became a member of the Austrian Social Democratic Party in 1875. In 1880, Kautsky moved to Switzerland, where he was influenced by the Marxist writer, Eduard Bernstein. While living in London between 1885 and 1890, he maintained a close relationship with Friedrich Engels. Kautsky founded the journal Neue Zeit in 1883. The journal became immensely influential in socialist circles both in Germany and internationally. He joined the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and, in 1891, drafted the Erfurt Program, which committed the SDP to an evolutionary form of Marxism. Kautsky also wrote the official commentary on the program, called The Class Struggle. In 1898, he took up the question of colonialism and the nationalities question in Austria-Hungary. He did not believe that imperialism would lead to war; rather, he saw it as a reactionary social phenomenon. He broke with Bernstein after the latter published Evolutionary Socialism in 1899. In the book Bernstein argued that the predictions made by Karl Marx about the development of capitalism had not transpired. He pointed out that the wages of workers had risen, and the polarization of classes between an oppressed proletariat and capitalist had not materialized. Kautsky strongly criticized these views.
   After initial hesitation, Kautsky opposed the SPD’s support of the German effort in World War I. He sided with the left-wing socialists and denounced the government’s annexationist aims. In April 1917, left-wing members of the SPD formed the Independent Socialist Party. Kautsky reluctantly became a member; however, he continued to oppose the idea of a violent revolution. In September 1917, the SPD dismissed him as editor of Die Neue Zeit for his opposition to the war.
   See also <>.
    Salvadori, Massimo L. Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution, 1880–1938. New York: Verso, 1990.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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