When Kautsky Met Marx

Kaul Kautsky met Marx in 1881. At the time Kautsky was a journalist in the German social democratic movement. He would after Marx’s death become its most influential theorist. Kautsky was nervous upon meeting Marx. He’d heard many stories of Marx’s temper and was afraid of embarrassing himself in front of his hero. This fear came true when Kautsky said to Marx that young socialists were “ardently awaiting the speedy appearance of the second volume of Capital”. To which Marx replied curtly, “me too”. When Kautsky later asked whether it was time to publish Marx’s complete works, Marx responded that they would first have to be completely written.

They nonetheless, from Kautsky’s point of view, had a lively conversation on a variety of interesting topics. As a result, Kautsky left “highly satisfied” and this “feeling grew even stronger” with each visit. Kautsky remarked that Marx’s goodness “made as strong an impression on me as the enormous compass of his knowledge and the sharpness of his mind. Even the few hours that I spent with Marx were sufficient to make me clearly conscious of the force of this mighty personality which overpowered at the same time as it enchanted.”

Marx had a very different view of Kautsky. In a letter to his daughter Jenny from April 1881, he described Kautsky as “a small minded mediocrity, too clever by half, industrious in a certain way, busying himself with statistics from which he does not derive anything intelligent, belonging by nature to the tribe of Philistines.” (McLellan 1981, 153-6)

Kautsky met his hero. But his hero did not like him.


McLellan, David, ed. 1981. Karl Marx: Interviews and Recollections. Barnes and Noble Books.

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