Karl Kautsky: On the Relation of Theory and Practice

Science and Society 61 (4):474 - 501 (1997)
Abstract
It has become customary to trace the deficiencies of Kautsky's "orthodox Marxism" to a reified social ontology that leaves no room for political will and secretes a separation of theory from practice. But this sort of interpretation does not stand up to careful examination of Kautskyan texts and their insertion in the political context of the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD); it obscures, and hence risks reproducing, the real theoretical and political limitations of Kautskyan orthodoxy. Bernstein's revisionist challenge counterposed social diversity and the diversification of the working class to the orthodox thesis of class polarization. Kautsky's failure to generate an innovative response is best explained as the product, not of a separation, but of the conjunction of an abstracdy universalistic theorization of workingclass unity with the parliamentary political project of the SPD. This union of theory and practice effectively depreciated any evidence of the necessary unevenness and complexity of the process of working-class unity and so, paradoxically, could reproduce divisions in the class. The appreciation of unevenness and complexity that is required in order to avoid the failures of Kautskyan orthodoxy suggests, in turn, a notion of the working-class movement as a unity-in-diversity, a community, and the need for a correspondingly rectified understanding of the unity of theory and practice.
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