Review: Eric Blanc’s Kautsky revivalism

by Duncan Hart • Published 15 February 2022

Eric Blanc, Revolutionary Social Democracy: Working-Class Politics Across the Russian Empire (1882-1917), Brill, 2021

For most Marxists, Karl Kautsky is a name forever associated with betrayal: both in his failure to steadfastly oppose the first World War and then his subsequent renunciation of the Russian Revolution. The extent of Kautsky’s influence and the form this took among the international socialist movement prior to 1914 is generally unexplored, likely because of the shame that Kautsky cast upon himself. Eric Blanc’s new book goes some way in rectifying this substantial historical deficit. While Blanc’s book helps to flesh out a political tradition and socialist movements little known to English readers, it is marred by questionable conclusions that seek to vindicate Kautskyism as a revolutionary theory.

Blanc’s case is that Kautsky’s politics provided the political framework for the workers’ revolutions in the territories of the Russian empire from 1917-19. This applies both to the revolution in central Russia as well as the still relatively unexplored (and more temporary) working-class revolutionary regimes in Finland, the Baltic states, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. Blanc makes this argument by outlining the politics of what he terms “revolutionary social democracy” (p.46) inspired by Kautsky. Blanc also performs an important historical service by broadening the scope of his study beyond just central Russia and the major urban centres of Petrograd and Moscow. In so doing he shows how Kautsky’s politics inspired a broader tradition than the Bolsheviks in the Russian empire, which in some cases led revolutionary struggles. Blanc’s aim is to demonstrate that, when the Russian Revolution is understood in its “All-Russian” context, the struggles took place in drastically different contexts, but each revolutionary party held to some form of Kautskyism. Blanc concludes from his study that the Russian Revolution fails to vindicate the politics of “Leninism”, ie, the politics expressed by the Third International (Comintern) which sought to generalise the experience of the Russian Revolution to facilitate international workers’ revolution. Rather, the genuine expression of the revolutionary period is Kautsky’s “revolutionary social democracy”.

Blanc’s book covers a lot of terrain, impossible to assess fully in a short review. So my focus will be on his central thesis, which calls for rejecting the Comintern in favour of Kautskyism. I will examine the politics of revolutionary social democracy prior to 1917, examine Blanc’s account of the revolutions of 1917-19, and wrap up by addressing head-on his critique of the Comintern.

Revolutionary social democracy prior to 1917

Blanc advocates very well for the politics of Kautskyism as expressed in the Erfurt Programme, and corrects a number of historical falsehoods. Firstly, he shows that Kautsky was most influential in the territory of the Russian empire and Eastern Europe, and not in the big parties of the Second International such as those in France, Italy or even Germany. For this reason, Blanc argues, it is wrong to see the Second International’s failings as the inevitable result of Kautsky’s political limitations (p.40). Interestingly, Blanc does not explore adequately the impact of Kautsky’s views. Nor does he assess those of other theoreticians with quite similar politics, broadly categorised as centrist, that were dominant in the wider Second International. Putting aside Kautsky’s personal relevance, it is clear that his brand of centrism could not prevent right-wing degeneration in those parties.

Having said that, Blanc is persuasive in arguing that it was in imperial Russia where socialists were most influenced by Kautsky. In the Russian empire Kautsky’s commentary on the Erfurt Programme[1] was more popular than the Communist Manifesto or any other item by leading Marxists (p.39). Other publications by Kautsky, including The Social Revolution and The Road to Power were also bestsellers in the Russian socialist movement. In this context, Kautsky was seen as the leading radical and opponent of the revisionist trend internationally, not as the conservative he would later become.

For reasons of space and emphasis I cannot fully respond to Blanc’s political outline of Kautskyism, which certainly has its problems, including the view that Kautsky did not adhere to an “evolutionist and economic determinist conception of Marxism” (p.50). Readers interested in exploring the relative strengths and weaknesses of Kautsky’s politics prior to 1909 should read an article by Darren Roso in an earlier edition of this journal.[2] Instead I will try to distil the elements of Kautskyism which Blanc leans on in his account of the Russian revolutionary movement.

Crucially for Blanc, he identifies that revolutionary social democrats made “a sharp distinction…between countries with or without political freedom”. “In countries with civil liberties and parliaments, revolutionary Marxists argued that social democratic parties should focus on patient and peaceful activities such as promoting socialist ideas through the press, building strong party organisations, running in elections to further spread the message, and building trade unions”.” Kautsky argued that such a strategy was revolutionary “as long as it was consistently linked to the assertion of the party’s final goals” (pp.55-6).

This argument did not hold in countries where open socialist organising was not possible, such as those in the Russian empire. A strategy of patiently accumulating forces was impossible when “the state so frequently smashed attempts to independently organise workers”. This led socialists there “to rely more on mass action tactics than their counterparts abroad” (p.56). In a state like Russia, the immediate priority was to establish a bourgeois democratic regime – the “democratic revolution” which was universally seen as the goal of all wings of social democracy prior to 1917.

It also meant that Kautsky advocated armed struggle in Russia to establish democracy, while renouncing it in “Western European democracies”, where workers “would generally seek to use existing democratic channels and freedoms to advance their interests” (p.58).

Another of Kautsky’s principles was that of class independence. This was manifested in the Second International in debates about forming coalition governments with bourgeois parties, which Kautsky led the charge in opposing. In the Russian context, this played out as a debate about how the working class would lead the democratic revolution, ie, the necessity for “proletarian hegemony” for the revolution to be successfully prosecuted to the fullest extent. This argument is laid out well in Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905) and revolves around the necessity for proletarian leadership in an alliance with the peasantry for such a revolution to succeed.

Regardless of whether Blanc is right to claim that practically all social democrats in Russia agreed with this strategy prior to the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, it is significant that in its aftermath many began to turn towards class collaboration. This included the Mensheviks, the Bund, the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction) and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. Those parties that held true to class independence were the Polish Socialist Party (Left), the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPIL), the Social Democracy of the Latvian Territory (LSDSP), the Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the Bolsheviks. All these latter parties subsequently became Communist parties and founding members of the Comintern.

In the chapter titled “Organisation, Mass Action, and Electoral Work”, Blanc explores in some depth the significance of mass action for the Russian revolutionary parties aside from Finland. Yet he fundamentally underestimates the significance that engagement with this strategy had for the revolutionary social democrats in Russia. Those parties which maintained a position of class independence increasingly came to centre strikes and protests, while the class-collaborationist parties, seeking to work with the bourgeoisie, increasingly turned against them. Parties like the Mensheviks which made this turn justified their new approach on the basis that the “Western” methods that Kautsky argued for in “democratic” states had become relevant in Russia after the creation of the Duma (p.129). Blanc quotes Krupskaya in her memoirs on the significance of this issue:

The method of agitation based on the workers’ everyday needs struck deep root in our Party work. I did not fully appreciate how efficacious this method was until years later, when, living in France as a political emigrant, I observed how, during the great strike of the postal workers in Paris, the French Socialist Party stood completely aloof from it. It was the business of the trade unions, they said. In their opinion the business of a party was only political struggle. They had no clear idea whatever about the necessity of combining the economic with the political struggle [my emphasis] (p.95).

Yet Blanc passes over this observation without comment. Later in the chapter, Blanc discusses the broader strategic commitment of the revolutionary social democrats in Russia to mass action, highlighting that this was not a personal invention of Lenin’s: “Bolsheviks as well as their non-Russian allies consistently promoted bottom-up action in all regions, stressing that collective disruption and the creativity of the working people was the motor driving the revolution forward, as well as the basis for building a new state of and for working people”. Blanc quotes Lithuanian socialist leader Peteris Stucka only days after the February Revolution, stating that “six months in the life of a revolution equals the same as decades of peaceful development” (pp.135-6). This evidence makes clear that social democrats in Russia who maintained a class struggle approach, again with the exception of Finland, developed a practical and theoretical reliance on mass action. Instead of admitting that this strategic reliance on mass action distinguished in practice the revolutionary social democrats in the Russian empire from many other social democratic parties elsewhere, and from the Russian social democrats’ own theoretical starting point in Kautskyism, Blanc instead argues that a strength of Kautskyism was its ability to apply different tactics in different contexts.

This downplays the significance of the practical merger of economic and political action which the revolutionary social democrats’ reliance on mass action pioneered. In Kautsky’s debate with Rosa Luxemburg on the mass strike in 1905, it was abundantly clear that he had no grasp on the transformative and revolutionary dynamics of mass action on workers’ consciousness. Instead, he understood it as a tool of political struggle, which could be utilised only when constitutional methods were blocked (which was, after all, his basis for supporting revolutionary methods in Russia). This is crucial because it bears on the entire premise for how revolutionary change can occur. Is it a process of working-class self-emancipation, where the revolutionary workers organised in factory committees, workers’ councils and unions learn through their own experience their ability to reshape society, and ultimately to rule it themselves? Or is workers’ activity just subsidiary to, and in service of, the efforts of reformers in the capitalist state?

Blanc agrees with Kautsky that mass action is an optional extra, an at times useful tool that is not necessary in forging a revolutionary party and revolutionary working class (p.183). This is demonstrated most of all in his account of Finland 1917-18, which he sees as a vindication of Kautsky’s strategy of “patient and peaceful” activities.

Re-litigating the Finnish Revolution

In an earlier article in the Marxist Left Review,[3] I went through earlier writings by Blanc on the Finnish revolution and addressed his primary contention that the SDP should serve as a model for socialists today. Readers interested in an over-arching revolutionary socialist narrative of the revolution should read that piece alongside John Newsinger’s excellent contribution in International Socialism.[4]

In general, Blanc outlines quite accurately the perspective of the Finnish SDP leadership, including its left wing. This left held to Kautskyist politics, described by one of its leaders as “1) peaceful, continuous but not revolutionary class war, and at the same time 2) an independent class-war, seeking no alliance with the bourgeoisie”.[5] As Blanc eloquently says of this current, it

focused its efforts on the parliamentary and trade union arena, [and] it saw the mass movement as useful for generating pressure to push through a platform of radical reforms… [C]oncerned not to lose their influence over the increasingly militant wings of Finnish workers, Finland’s leading revolutionary SDs supported – or at least went along with – the surge from below (pp.141-2).

Blanc argues that this approach was vindicated because the Finnish SDP leaders eventually launched an armed struggle which, in defeat, led to the deaths of approximately 30,000 working-class people, the majority due to massacres and starvation in concentration camps. He criticises the views of myself and other historians who have labelled the Kautskyist leadership as fatalistic and forced by the rising tide of reaction into seizing power without adequate preparation. He argues that such views are themselves ironically fatalistic, as we “problematically assume that certain objective circumstances on their own are sufficient to compel socialists to lead a workers’ revolution” (p.313).

This misunderstands a revolutionary critique of the Kautskyists. It is not that their commitment to independent working-class organisation and principled refusal to capitulate to the bourgeoisie did not contribute to the development of the Finnish Revolution. Rather, the argument is that to actually lead a victorious insurrection and civil war, the Finnish SDP needed a perspective which actually aimed at seizing power and furthering workers’ self-activity. In Russia the Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries actually led the soviets, factory committees, and unions in the struggle. It is abundantly clear, and admitted openly by Blanc, that the Finnish SDP tailed equivalent bodies during their own revolution, such as the Trade Union Federation (SAJ), the Helsinki Workers’ Council, and the Red Guard. For instance, the Helsinki Workers’ Council called on the SDP to organise the Red Guard nationally 44 days before the SDP did so. The SAJ sent an ultimatum on food supply to the newly elected bourgeois Finnish government and threatened an insurrectionary general strike well before the SDP took action. Finally, the Red Guard acted as a pressure group on the SDP leaders, demanding that they lead an insurrection.

It bears repeating that the failure of the SDP to take power during the November general strike was not just a fair enough decision to make in fraught circumstances as Blanc portrays it (p.144). The congress of the SAJ which met to declare the strike on November 14 is described in Anthony Upton’s history of the revolution as unanimous in deciding to launch a struggle “for the ruling power in the land [to be] suppressed…the battle for victory or death”. Not only was the general strike a total victory for the spontaneous activity of the workers against a weak Finnish bourgeoisie, but a majority of the Revolutionary Council set up by the SDP, Red Guards and SAJ voted 14–11 for the seizure of power. The Kautskyist faction of SDP leaders, including Kuusinen, Sirola and Manner, totally betrayed this movement of the class-conscious proletariat by refusing power despite the clear and unambiguous will of the workers. This stab in the back by the Kautskyists sapped the courage of the union leaders and Red Guardists, who, faced with unanimous opposition by every SDP representative on the Revolutionary Council, abandoned their plans for insurrection.[6]

It is scandalous for Blanc to compare this clear-cut betrayal of the workers to the decision of the Bolsheviks in Petrograd or other cities throughout the empire not to seize power when they were in an isolated minority, such as the July Days of 1917. A more genuine comparison would have been if Zinoviev and Kamenev had won the argument after the Second Congress of the Soviets in October for the Bolsheviks to accept a minority stake in a combined socialist government led by Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, despite the clearly expressed will of the millions of workers and peasants who backed a Bolshevik government.

There are clear differences between the revolutionary social democrats in the broader Russian empire and the Finnish social democrats in Blanc’s own account. The former emphasised mass action and working-class self-activity, whereas the latter subordinated the mass struggle of the workers to the parliamentary struggle. Blanc clearly shows that the SDP argued for the parliament as the arena in which social change could take place, despite the contradiction in practice of the SDP leading an uprising after losing an election. By insisting that the revolution was not about which class would rule, but instead about “restoring democracy”, the SDP restrained workers’ consciousness even when they did rise up.[7]

The Russian Revolution

Blanc’s account of the revolution in Russia is an attempt, like the entirety of his book, to separate the revolutionary movement from its own self-assessments. Whereas books and pamphlets written by members of the Bolsheviks and the Third International during and after the revolution in order to explain the significance of the first workers’ revolution to take state power are dismissed, we are told that the ideas that Kautsky himself had already abandoned by 1917 were of greater significance. With this marvellous method, Blanc blithely insists that State and Revolution, written by Lenin in September 1917, is an unimportant text for the revolution. Blanc doesn’t go through every piece of writing written by the Bolsheviks or early Third International he disagrees with, instead favourably citing a 1985 article by James White which suggests that Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (1918) and John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World were self-justifying propaganda and therefore unreliable histories of the revolution (p.392). Blanc justifies his own dismissal of the Third International’s politics by saying that “the real strategic break among revolutionary social democrats…came well after October, when the Bolsheviks began to theoretically justify their ad hoc domestic decisions and when they started to export abroad a soviet model of revolution” (p.391). According to this view, Lenin was able to produce a theoretical justification of “ad hoc domestic decisions” for the first successful workers’ revolution before that revolution had even succeeded! Far-sighted indeed.

To show that the Bolsheviks were fighting for a democratic revolution rather than socialism in 1917, Blanc illustrates quite well the continuities between the position of the Bolsheviks prior to Lenin’s return in April and afterwards. Blanc shows that there was already widespread support for a soviet government among the Bolsheviks and hostility to the Provisional Government prior to April. This makes perfect sense, since out of the 1905 revolution the Bolsheviks had already concluded that the soviets were the embryo of the “democratic dictatorship” of workers and peasants and were hostile to any government with bourgeois parties (pp.373-5). Instead, Blanc argues that this continuity means that the Bolsheviks were not “arguing for socialism” prior to taking power in October, but for a straight democratic revolution. The point here is to show that the Russian Revolution has limited international application, especially in countries that already possess democratic institutions.

It could be said that it was a measure of the strength of Bolshevik implantation in the working class that they largely posed their propaganda concretely, even in a revolution. But this is very different from Blanc’s claim that “it is not factually accurate to claim that the Bolsheviks or their allies saw [the revolution as socialist] for most of 1917” (p.390). Let’s see what the Bolsheviks saw in the revolution of 1917.

In May 1917, Bukharin wrote:

[T]he conquest of political power by the proletariat will, under the existing circumstances, no longer mean a bourgeois revolution, in which the proletariat plays the role of the broom of history. The proletariat must henceforth lay a dictatorial hand upon production, and that is the beginning of the end of the capitalist system.[8]

At the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) on July 30 in Petrograd, Stalin said:

Some comrades say that since capitalism is poorly developed in our country, it would be utopian to raise the question of the socialist revolution… [T]he workers could not, without committing political suicide, abstain from actively interfering in the economic life of the country in favour of socialist changes. It would be rank pedantry to say that Russia should “wait” with socialist changes until Europe begins”.[9]

In September 1917, Trotsky wrote in Pravda:

[T]hose who are of like mind with Comrade Martov, in opposition to us, deny the social-revolutionary character of the political task. Russia, they declare in their platform, is not yet ready for Socialism, and our function is necessarily limited to the founding of a democratic bourgeois republic. The whole attitude is based on a complete rejection of the international problems of the proletariat. If Russia were alone in the world, Martov’s reasoning would be correct. But we are engaged in carrying out a world revolution, in a struggle with world imperialism, with the tasks of the world proletariat, which includes the Russian proletariat.[10]

In May 1917, Lenin wrote in the newspaper Volna that the Bolsheviks were

for socialism. The Soviets must immediately take all possible practicable steps for its realisation.[11]

In The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it (October 1917), Lenin wrote:

Either we have to be revolutionary democrats in fact, in which case we must not fear to take steps towards socialism. Or we fear to take steps towards socialism, condemn them in the Plekhanov, Dan or Chernov way, by arguing that our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, that socialism cannot be “introduced”, etc., in which case we inevitably sink to the level of Kerensky, Milyukov and Kornilov, i.e., we in a reactionary-bureaucratic way suppress the “revolutionary-democratic” aspirations of the workers and peasants.[12]

While the Bolsheviks clearly saw the viability of the workers’ revolution in Russia as bound up with the international revolution, they clearly assessed that socialism was on the agenda. Blanc is flatly and bizarrely wrong on this score. Given that Blanc also understands that the Bolsheviks and their allies conceived “of socialist revolution as a single international process” (p.338), it is even more confusing that he attempts to draw a line between the “democratic” and “socialist” revolution in Russia.

The most class-conscious workers in Russia understood that their ability to pass over into a socialist society was conditioned on the success of the international revolution. The resolution adopted by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies that met immediately after the overthrow of the Provisional Government, for instance, spoke of their “unshakeable conviction” that the “workers’ and peasants’ government…will firmly advance towards socialism, the only means of saving the country”. Furthermore “the Soviet is convinced that the proletariat of the West European countries will help us to achieve a complete and lasting victory for the cause of socialism”.[13] Speaking at a public meeting in Moscow in April 1918, just after the defeat inflicted by the Brest-Litovsk treaty, Trotsky reminded his audience that

to establish at last, for the first time, such an order upon this earth as would do away, on the one hand, with the man bent and oppressed and on the other, with he who rides on the back of his fellow-men… All this we can and shall realise completely only when the European working class support us.[14]

The second pillar of Blanc’s argument for Kautsky’s “orthodox” Marxism over the interpretation of the revolution offered by the Third international is that

the major socialist debates on revolutionary power in 1917 did not revolve around the question of whether the Russian Revolution was “democratic” or “socialist” in nature, nor whether a soviet government was a higher form of democratic rule than a parliamentary regime… [T]he fundamental political question facing socialists in 1917 was: Was it necessary to ally with or break from the bourgeoisie? (p.379).

Again, this amounts to a denial by Blanc that revolutionary social democratic, and even general working-class consciousness, was impacted by the experience of the revolution and the World War. True, the argument for “all power to the soviets” was an argument for a government of workers and peasants that excluded the bourgeoisie. But clearly the conclusion drawn by the Bolsheviks was that this amounted to a new form of state – a workers’ state, a transitional institution on the path towards communism. This latter point is basically ignored by Blanc. This was the significance of State and Revolution and a point never made in Kautsky’s writings. Blanc makes out that only Lenin understood the significance of the soviets as new form of state (p.380). This is clearly wrong and ignores what other leading Bolsheviks wrote before the October Revolution.

In 1973 Stephen Cohen showed that Lenin drew much of his analysis in State and Revolution from arguments with Bukharin on the Marxist theory of the state in 1916.[15] Bukharin was the leading Bolshevik active in Moscow during 1917. Stalin wrote in Rabochy Put on 13 October that “all power to the soviets” did not just imply a change in “the composition of the Provisional Government” and adding “‘socialist’ ministers” to it. The Provisional Government was powerless to carry out even the most basic reforms because it had not conducted “a thorough purge of every government institution in the rear and at the front, from top to bottom”. For the soviets to take power,

all “persons in authority” in town and country, in the army and navy, in “departments” and “establishments”, on the railways and in post and telegraph offices must be elected and subject to recall… Power to the Soviets means the dictatorship of the proletariat and revolutionary peasantry…an open, mass dictatorship, exercised in sight of all, without plots and underhand dealings.[16]

This is all pretty clear, but I think it is also fair to say that the politics of the Bolsheviks in 1917 were in the process of evolution. The unbelievable flaw in Blanc’s account is not that many Bolsheviks and other revolutionary social democrats in the empire did not entirely grasp the significance of their actions during the revolution. Rather, it is that their subsequent attempts to generalise from the revolution were wrong, even in terms of their own ideas. It is axiomatic for Marxists that mass consciousness lags behind mass action, that the theoretical exposition of events generally follows from the events themselves. Lenin made this point at the first Congress of the Comintern in March 1919, when he said:

[D]uring the first eight months of the Russian Revolution the question of soviet organisation was very much discussed, and the workers did not understand what the new system was and whether the soviets could be transformed into a state machine. In our revolution we advanced along the path of practice and not of theory. [my emphasis][17]

The point is that the politics of the Third International represented a theoretical development upon the existing politics of the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary social democrats. It built on the practical experience of the working-class revolutions of 1917-19, an experience in which the orthodox social democracy of Karl Kautsky exposed itself to be fundamentally counter-revolutionary.

The Third International and its relevance

Blanc refuses to ascribe any significance to the fact that all of the parties which he argues held true to Kautskyist revolutionary social democracy during the 1917 revolution became founding members of the Third International. The Latvian social democrats, the Polish Socialist Party (Left), the SDKPIL, the Finns – all formed communist parties and assisted the Bolsheviks in forming the Comintern. Blanc highlights the diversity of revolutionary parties during the revolution itself, as a way of arguing that the course of events was not a vindication of “Leninism”, but rather the property of a larger revolutionary social democracy. However, he is curiously silent when it comes to attributing similar agency to those self-same parties in forming the Comintern, the politics of which he ascribes purely to “Leninism”.

A reasonable conclusion to draw from the evidence Blanc presents is that the social democrats in the Russian empire who stayed true to a class-struggle programme following the 1905 revolution increasingly developed as a distinct political current, despite their origins in Kautskyism. This current emerged fully and developed more clearly as the Comintern was established, arguing that workers’ revolutions everywhere had to smash the state through workers’ collective action, up to and including insurrection, and replace it with a workers’ state, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The only exception to this rule was the Finnish social democrats. Yet their experience validates this argument, not Blanc’s. For when their exiled leaders formed the Finnish Communist Party, they made clear that they did so after having learned painful lessons from their experience in the revolution.[18]


Blanc sums up by arguing that the politics of “revolutionary social democracy”, ie, classic pre-1909 Kautskyism, were vindicated by the experience of the Russian Revolution. As Blanc offers no clear advice to modern socialists based on Kautskyism for today, in fact at times denying its relevance at all, it is clear his primary agenda is tearing down revolutionary socialists. To do so he must deny the political conclusions drawn by the very people he is studying.

It is ironic that in trying to develop a “revolutionary” Kautskyism against Lenin, Blanc ends up regurgitating Kautsky’s most counter-revolutionary arguments. In 1918, in The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Kautsky argued, like Blanc, that the most heinous crime committed by the Bolsheviks was arguing for a revolutionary strategy internationally.[19] Kautsky, like Blanc, refused to acknowledge the momentous breakthrough represented by the workers’ state, and like Blanc, blindly defended the bourgeois system of parliamentary “democracy”.

Rather than accepting Blanc’s narrative that the revolutionary social democrats of the Russian empire successfully utilised Kautskyism, but then abruptly discarded it after the October Revolution for some apparently self-justifying reason, the evidence Blanc presents makes more sense if the autocratic conditions of the Russian empire are used to explain the development of the revolutionary tradition that became the Third International, ie, revolutionary socialism.

This evolution was marked by several ruptures that led to the cohering of a new revolutionary politics, in particular the First World War, which created conditions for international revolution, and a schism in the international workers’ movement. It was out of this experience of anti-war organising that an international current clearly began to be organised which distinguished itself both from the revisionist right wing as well as the Kautskyist centrist wing.

There is much of interest in Blanc’s book, but it will be difficult to parse it through his many dubious conclusions. Extending the frame of analysis of the course of the Russian Revolution and the empire’s socialist movement beyond central Russia is important and something which should be continued. Identifying the generalised interest and theoretical background of Russia’s social democrats in Kautskyism should also help establish the tendencies that explain the later emergence of the Third International with more precision. Hopefully Blanc’s study can motivate revolutionaries to apply themselves to understand the Russian revolutionary movement more deeply in all its geographic richness and political diversity.


Bukharin, Nikolai 1917, “The Russian Revolution and Its Significance”, in The Class Struggle, Vol. 1, No. 1, May-June.

Cohen, Stephen 1980, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, Oxford University Press.

Hart, Duncan 2018, “The Lost Workers’ Revolution: Finland 1917-1918”, Marxist Left Review, 15, Summer.

Kautsky, Karl 1910 [1892], The Class Struggle [Erfurt Programme], Charles H. Kerr and Co.

Kautsky, Karl 1919 [1918], The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, National Labour Press.

Kuusinen, Otto Wille 1919 [1918], The Finnish Revolution: a Self-Criticism, Workers’ Socialist Federation.

Lenin, VI 1964 [1917], “Political Parties in Russia and the Tasks of the Proletariat”, Collected Works, Vol. 24, pp.93-106, Progress Publishers.

Lenin, VI 1972 [1917], “Meeting of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies”, Collected Works, Vol. 26, pp.239-41, Progress Publishers.

Lenin, VI 1977 [1917], “The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It”, Collected Works, Vol. 25, pp.323-69, Progress Publishers.

Newsinger, John 2018, “‘The axe without an edge’: social democracy and the Finnish Revolution of 1918”, in International Socialism, 159, Summer.

Riddell, John [ed.] 1987, Founding the Communist International, Anchor Foundation.

Roso, Darren 2017, “Kautsky: the abyss beyond parliament”, Marxist Left Review, 14, Winter.

Stalin, Josef 1954a [1917], “Report of the Political Situation”, Works, Vol. 3, Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Stalin, Josef 1954b [1917], “Soviet Power” in Works, Vol. 3, Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Trotsky, Leon 1917, “International Tactics” in What Next? After the July days.

Trotsky, Leon 1918, A Paradise in this World, British Socialist Party.

Upton, Anthony 1980, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, University of Minnesota.

[1] Kautsky 1910.

[2] Roso 2017.

[3] Hart 2018.

[4] Newsinger 2018.

[5] Kuusinen 1919, p.7.

[6] The best account of these events can be found in Upton 1980, pp.149-62.

[7] Kuusinen 1919, pp.18-19.

[8] Bukharin 1917.

[9] Stalin 1954a.

[10] Trotsky 1917.

[11] Lenin 1964.

[12] Lenin 1977.

[13] Lenin 1972.

[14] Trotsky 1918, p.18.

[15] Cohen 1980, pp.39-43.

[16] Stalin 1954b.

[17] Quoted in Riddell 1987, p.162.

[18] The most thought-out reflection is Kuusinen 1919.

[19] Kautsky 1919.

The lost workers' revolution: Finland 1917-18

Duncan Hart contributes to an ongoing debate on the international left about the significance of the little known revolution in Finland in 1917-1918.

Kautsky: the abyss beyond parliament

Darren Roso contributes to debates about what kind of parties the revolutionary left needs and the role of Karl Kautsky, the leading theorist of the Second International before World War I.