Review: Proletarian dictatorship and terrorism, by Karl Radek

At the time he wrote this in 1920, Karl Radek was a loyal Bolshevik. This short book, like Trotsky’s more famous Terrorism and Communism, was written in rebuttal to Karl Kautsky’s book of the same title. Radek had the same politics as Trotsky but none of his skill as a writer. This book is a hatchet job, dismissing Kautsky — once known as ‘Pope of Marxism’ — as senile, decrepit, irrelevant, cowardly, a tool of the international bourgeoisie, and so on. Of course one wonders why bother writing a response to Kautsky if he was so unimportant. Clearly the Bolshevik leadership considered Kautsky’s critical writings about their new Soviet state as a threat — which is why Lenin, Trotsky and Radek all dropped what they were doing in the middle of a civil war to write rebuttals of varying length and quality. Much of the discussion in this book follows Kautsky’s own work, focussing on the French Revolution of the late 18th century and on the Paris Commune of 1871. Radek did his best to defend the Soviet regime, but in the end he died in one of Stalin’s labour camps after having confessed to treason at one of the Moscow show trials – a victim of the terror he defended in these pages.