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Bernstein, Eduard

Bernstein, Eduard

WORKS BY BERNSTEIN

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eduard Bernstein (1850–1932), one of the leaders of German revisionist socialism, came of a lower middle-class family in Berlin. He attended the Gymnasium until the age of 16, when he became first an apprentice and then an employee in a bank. In 1872 he joined the German Social Democratic party (SPD) and was soon active in the Berlin organization of the party.

Like so many socialists of this period, Bernstein was forced to move from country to country. Just before the adoption of the antisocialist laws in Germany in 1878, he seized an opportunity to go to Switzerland, and when the Swiss government, under pressure from Bismarck, interfered with a socialist publication he was connected with, Bernstein left Switzerland for England. His enforced residence in London led him to study the political climate of Britain and the British labor movement, and he came into contact with the Fabian Society, which had been founded in 1883. Although the antisocialist laws in Germany were repealed in 1890, Bernstein was not granted permission to return until 1901.

The 1890’s were a period of considerable prosperity in Germany, during which the economy grew steadily, undisturbed by any major crisis. The prediction contained in the Erfurt program of the SPD, adopted in 1890, that the army of superfluous workers would become ever larger and that the crises intrinsic to the very nature of the capitalist mode of production would become ever more extensive and more devastating, was sharply contradicted by the economic realities of those years, when workingmen, too, shared in the general prosperity. Influenced as he was by British realism, Bernstein found this discrepancy between theory and actuality more disturbing than did other Marxists. In several articles that appeared in Kautsky’s Neue Zeit in 1898 (see Bernstein [1896–1898] 1904, pp. 167–286) he made a break with orthodox Marxism, and in a book published three years later (1899) he focused his criticism on the prognosis of the increasing impoverishment of the proletariat and on the notion that, inevitably, capitalist crises would become increasingly acute and result in the early collapse of the capitalist system. With the aid of carefully collected statistics, Bernstein demonstrated that the capitalist system had, on the contrary, developed several stabilizing factors that made its early collapse extremely unlikely. He pointed out a trend that was the exact opposite of impoverishment, i.e., increased production, accompanied by an increase in mass consumption as well as by an increase in the workers’ real income. The alleged exacerbation of crises could be similarly refuted.

While a necessary component of the Marxist theory of the evolution of capitalist society was its polarization into two sharply conflicting classes— with increasing numbers of increasingly poor proletarians on one side and increasingly few increasingly rich capitalists on the other—Bernstein insisted that in fact society was becoming more and more differentiated. He sought to show, with the aid of comprehensive statistical data, that the trend toward big business was being resisted by the middle class. Furthermore, the process of concentration was most obviously not taking place in the service occupations (Bernstein early recognized the importance of repair and auxiliary services), in trade, and in agriculture. He was aware of the rise of a new middle class of white collar workers and civil servants, and he pointed out the importance of gaining this new class as an ally of the workers. He believed he could demonstrate a process of differentiation, rather than of polarization or concentration, not only in the class system but also in the distribution of income.

Bernstein’s attack on the theory of historical materialism went much farther than the questioning of specific Marxist predictions. He denied the validity of the concept of the unilateral economic determination of the historical process, and he acknowledged the importance of noneconomic factors, even placing them on a par with the productive forces and the relations of production. With this view Bernstein built a bridge to so-called bourgeois sociology. His view is essentially the same as that expressed in the well-known sentences at the end of Max Weber’s first essay on Protestantism.

In view of the tremendous confusion of interdependent influences between the material basis, the forms of social and political organization, and the ideas current in the time of the Reformation, we can only proceed by investigating whether and at what points certain correlations between forms of religious belief and practical ethics can be worked out. At the same time we shall as far as possible clarify the manner and the general direction in which, by virtue of those relationships, the religious movements have influenced the development of material culture. Only when this has been determined with reasonable accuracy can the attempt be made to estimate to what extent the historical development of modern culture can be attributed to those religious forces and to what extent to others. (Weber [1904–1905] 1930, pp. 91–92)

The acceptance by sociology of some of the insights of historical materialism owes much to Bernstein.

His break with Marxism became final in a lecture “Wie ist wissenschaftlicher Socialismus möglich?” (“Is Scientific Socialism Possible?”), which he delivered in Berlin shortly after his return from England in 1901. Throwing economic determinism overboard, Bernstein deliberately chose Kant’s basic ethical formulation and shifted the justification for socialist struggle from the sphere of what is to that of what ought to be. For him, socialism was henceforth a postulate and a program rather than a scientific analysis of the laws of change.

Bernstein’s views, which were soon labeled “revisionism,” did not convince the German Social Democratic party. While the SPD often pursued a revisionist policy in practice, its official condemnation of revisionist theory at its Dresden congress in 1903 prevented it from achieving a satisfactory reconciliation of practice with theory. The discrepancy persisted even in the Weimar period, to the detriment of the effectiveness of the party.

When Bernstein died in 1932, he had long ceased to act as theoretician for the SPD. Only after their defeat by Hitler did the Social Democrats finally abandon the Marxist dogmas hallowed by tradition. Many of Bernstein’s insights were incorporated in the official theory of the West German Social Democratic party, as witness the action programs of Dortmund in 1952 and Berlin in 1954, and especially the 1959 Bad Godesberg program of principles.

Christian Gneuss

[For the historical context of Bernstein’s work, seeEconomic thought, article onSocialist thought; and the biographies ofKautsky; Lenin; Luxemburg; Marx.]

WORKS BY BERNSTEIN

(1896–1898) 1904 Probleme des Socialismus. 4th ed. Berlin: Dümmler. → Part 2 of Eduard Bernstein, Zur Geschichte und Theorie des Socialismus.

(1899) 1909 Evolutionary Socialism: A Criticism and Affirmation. London: Independent Labour Party. → First published as Die Voraussetzungen des Socialismus und die Aufgaben der Socialdemokratie. A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Schocken Books.

1901 Wie ist wissenschaftlicher Socialismus möglich? Berlin: Socialistische Monatshefte.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gay, Peter 1952 The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein’s Challenge to Marx. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Collier.

Gneuss, Christian 1957 Um den Einklang von Theorie und Praxis: Eduard Bernstein und der Revisionismus. Volume 2, pages 198–226 in Marxismusstudien. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr.

Gneuss, Christian 1962 The Precursor: Eduard Bernstein. Pages 31–41 in Leopold Labedz (editor), Revisionism: Essays on the History of Marxist Ideas. New York: Praeger.

Weber, Max (1904–1905) 1930 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons, with a foreword by R. H. Tawney. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Scribner. → First published in German. The 1930 edition has been reprinted frequently. See especially pages 35–92.

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Eduard Bernstein

Eduard Bernstein

The German socialist Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932) was a leader of the revisionist, or evolutionary, wing of the German Social Democratic party.

Eduard Bernstein was born in Berlin on Jan. 6, 1850. As the family's financial resources were limited, his educational opportunities were restricted, and at 16 he became an apprentice in a bank. Within a few years he had risen to the position of bank clerk. In 1872 he joined the Social Democratic party (SPD) and became an active member of the party's Berlin organization. In 1878, shortly prior to the adoption of Chancellor Bismarck's antisocialist legislation, Bernstein traveled to Switzerland.

As a consequence of Bismarck's continued hostility toward the socialists, Bernstein remained in Switzerland and became the editor of the official SPD newspaper. After Bismarck brought pressure to bear in order to halt the smuggling of the newspaper into Germany, the Swiss government forced Bernstein to leave in 1880. He then went to London, where he met the German socialist Friedrich Engels, eventually becoming one of his close associates. Bernstein was also able to study the British labor movement and associate with the recently organized Fabian Society, an organization of socialists. Early Fabians such as George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb rejected revolutionary Marxism and advocated what they termed "the inevitability of gradualness." This idea was to form a central part of Bernstein's mature "revisionist" position.

During the 1890s Bernstein began to make his break with orthodox Marxism clear. His revisionist position emerged in a series of articles in an official party publication, Die neue Zeit, in 1898. The reaction to these articles by groups within the SPD caused him to write a defense, Evolutionary Socialism (1899). In this classic statement of the revisionist position, Bernstein used scientific analysis to attack the premises of revolutionary Marxism. He demonstrated through statistics that workers were not becoming more impoverished and that capitalism was not becoming less stable and thus its collapse was not imminent. He rejected revolutionary tactics as self-defeating and advocated achieving reforms through moderate and constitutional methods. He also urged that the SPD, a working-class party, should attempt to win over the middle classes. Revisionism was officially condemned by the SPD in 1903, and the polarization of the party's revolutionary and evolutionary wings existed until after World War II.

By his death in 1932 Bernstein had long since ceased to be regarded as a leader or major theorist of the SPD. But when the party was reorganized in West Germany after World War II, many of Bernstein's ideas were incorporated in its programs. The new party gave up its revolutionary theory, emphasized action and reform, and attempted to broaden its political base by cutting across ideological and class lines.

Further Reading

Bernstein's major work, Evolutionary Socialism! A Criticism and Affirmation, is available in a good translation by Edith C. Harvey, with an excellent introduction by Sidney Hook (1961). The best study in English of Bernstein's life and work is Peter Gay, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx (1952). For background see George Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (1961; 2d ed. 1964).

Additional Sources

Bernstein, Eduard, My years of exile: reminiscences of a socialist, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986. □

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Bernstein, Eduard

Bernstein, Eduard (1850–1932) As the leading revisionist thinker of the German Social Democratic Party, Bernstein sought to cleanse the party's ideology of what he regarded as its anachronistic Marxist assumptions and ideas. At the philosophical level and on the basis of a newly assertive neo-Kantianism, he rejected the positivism and evolutionism, as well as the residual Hegelianism that he detected in orthodox Marxism. Consequently, at the political level he challenged the immiseration and proletarianization theses as applied to capitalist societies, as well as the amorality, fatalism, and pessimism that underpinned them. For Bernstein, then, socialism represented not just a distant goal, but also an ethical ideal that possessed far more than mere inspirational significance in the present. In sum, despite his often misread statement ‘the movement is everything, the goal nothing’, Bernstein came to stand for a socialist gradualism that should be distinguished from mere reformism (see P. Gay 's book about ‘Bernstein's challenge to Marx’, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism, 1952
). See also KAUTSKY, KARL.

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Bernstein, Eduard

Eduard Bernstein (ā´dōōärt bĕrn´shtīn), 1850–1932, German socialist. From 1872 he was actively associated with the Social Democratic party. In 1878, antisocialist legislation sent him into exile. In 1898, he aroused controversy among German socialists by critiquing Marxism, denying that the collapse of capitalism was imminent, and maintaining that the bourgeoisie was not wholly parasitic. He saw socialism as the final result of liberalism, not revolution. Returning from England to Berlin in 1901 he became the leader of revisionism, opposed by Karl Johann Kautsky. Bernstein protested his party's support for war by resigning in 1914. He rejoined the party after World War I, leading it as a popular reformist party. He served briefly in the government (1919), and later opposed the Nazis. His most important book setting forth criticisms of Marxism is Evolutionary Socialism (1898, tr. 1909).

See his reminiscences, My Years of Exile (1921); P. Gay, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism (1954); J. W. Hulse, Revolutionists in London (1970).

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