Review: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, by V.I. Lenin

It’s said that when he died, Lenin left behind a library in which the largest number of books were written by himself — but the second largest group were books written by Karl Kautsky. Kautsky was not only Lenin’s mentor, but was widely seen as the ‘pope of Marxism’, a voice of authority on the international Left. Nine months after the Bolshevik coup d’etat in 1917, Kautsky published a short book called ‘The Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ which expressed his reservations about what Lenin and his comrades were doing in Russia. This book is Lenin’s answer, written at a time when Russia was in the midst of a civil war. It is incredible that Lenin found the time to write such, but such was Kautsky’s importance to him. Lenin’s arguments are not convincing and more to the point, they are incredibly nasty and vituperative. He took Kautsky’s attacks very personally and much of the book consists of a series of insults, such as repeatedly calling Kautsky ‘stupid’. The arguments Lenin made in the book are long forgotten, but what lingers is a style of polemic which he pioneered, the nastiness of which you can still hear today from supporters of the authoritarian Left.