Appendix: Exposing and Refuting Kautsky and his Opportunist Theory of “Ultra-Imperialism”

From Lenin's Fight Against Revisionism and Opportunism, by Cheng Yen-Shih, (Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965), Chapter 9. EXPOSING AND REFUTING KAUTSKYISM


Lenin exploded the falsity of the theory of "ultraimperialism" advanced by Kautsky. He regarded it as the most subtle of opportunist theories, most skillfully counterfeited to appear scientific.

Kautsky asked:

Cannot the present imperialist policy be supplanted by a new, ultra-imperialist policy, which will introduce the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital in place of the mutual rivalries of national finance capitals? (Quoted by Lenin in "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", op. ext., p. 293)

He went on to say that the end of the war:

"may lead to the strengthening of the weak rudiments of ultraimperialism. …Its lessons may hasten developments for which we would have to wait a long time under peace conditions. If an agreement between nations, disarmament and a lasting peace are achieved, the worst of the causes that led to the growing moral decay of capitalism before the war may disappear. . . .” (Quoted by Lenin in "The Collapse of the Second International", op. ext., p. 184)   He said that this "new" phase of "ultra-imperialism" "could create an era of new hopes and expectations within the framework of capitalism". (ibid., p. 185)

With his theory of "ultra-imperialism" Kautsky wanted to prove that the contradictions of capitalism would be greatly mitigated. Lenin pointed out that free trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary during the former "peaceful" epoch of capitalism, when capital was in a position to increase the number of its colonies and dependent countries without hindrance, and when concentration of capital was still slight and no monopolist undertakings existed. However, in the imperialist epoch, though monopoly superseded free competition it did not abolish competition; on the contrary, it intensified it, thus compelling the capitalists to pass from peaceful expansion to armed struggle for the redivision of colonies and spheres of influence.

Lenin said:

The capitalists divide the world, not out of any particular malice, but because the degree of concentration which has been reached forces them to adopt this method in order to obtain profits. And they divide it " in proportion to capital", " in proportion to strength", because there cannot be any other method of division under commodity production and capitalism. But strength varies with the degree of economic and political development. In order to understand what is taking place, it is necessary to know what questions, are settled by the changes in strength. The question as to whether these changes are "purely" economic or non-economic (e.g., military) is a secondary one, which cannot in the least affect fundamental views on the latest epoch of capitalism. ("Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", op. ext., p. 253)

He added:

… “inter-imperialist” or “ultra-imperialist” alliances, no matter what form they may assume, whether of one imperialist coalition against another, or of a general alliance embracing all the imperialist powers, are inevitably nothing more than a "truce" in periods between wars. Peaceful alliances prepare the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternating, forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggle on one and the same basis of imperialist connections and relations within world economics and world politics. (ibid., p. 295)

The only real, social significance which Kautsky's "ultra-imperialism" could have was that

"it is a most reactionary method of consoling the masses with hopes of permanent peace being possible under capitalism, by distracting their attention from the sharp antagonisms and acute problems of the present times, and directing it towards illusory prospects of an imaginary 'ultraimperialism' of the future".(ibid., p. 294)

Kautsky played the part of the parson saying that many capitalists were urgently interested in universal peace and disarmament, and were not bound to imperialism, because any interests they might gain from war and armaments did not outweigh the damage they might suffer from the consequences. He advised the capitalists that the urge of capital to expand could be best promoted, "not by the violent methods of imperialism, but by peaceful democracy". (Quoted by Lenin in "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", ibid., p. 289)

Lenin remarked:

And now that the armed conflict for Great Power privileges is a fact, Kautsky tries to persuade the capitalists and the petty bourgeoisie to believe that war is a terrible thing, while disarmament is a good thing, in exactly the same way, and with exactly the same results, as a Christian parson tries from the pulpit to persuade the capitalist to believe that human love is God's commandment, as well as the yearning of the soul and the moral law of civilisation. The thing that Kautsky calls economic tendencies towards "ultra-imperialism" is precisely a petty-bourgeois attempt to persuade the financiers to refrain from doing evil. (“The Collapse of the Second International", op. cit., p. 190)

He showed that, as an international ideological trend, Kautskyism was both a product of the disintegration and decay of the Second International, and at the same time an inevitable outcrop of the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie who remained captive to bourgeois prejudices.

He declared:

The growing world proletarian revolutionary movement in general, and the communist movement in particular, cannot dispense with an analysis and exposure of the theoretical errors of Kautskyism. The more so since pacifism and "democracy" in general, which lay no claim to Marxism whatever, but which, like Kautsky and Co., are obscuring the profundity of the contradictions of imperialism and the inevitable revolutionary crisis to which it gives rise, are still very widespread all over the world. ("Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism", op. cit., pp. 192-93)

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