Bernstein, Eduard

(1850–1932)
   Bernstein is one of the most significant Marxists in terms of his political and theoretical contributions to Marxism, and in terms of his lasting influence. He has been both condemned and lauded as a “revisionist,” and was bold enough to try to challenge and change major aspects of Karl Marx’s thought. Bernstein argued for a reformist and moral Marxism that favored constitutional legislation over revolutionary action and supplemented science with ethics. He advocated a gradual democratization and socialization of capitalist society. His Marxism was evolutionary, ethical and democratic, and his views have been a key influence on the development of the European social democratic movement.
   Born in Berlin, Bernstein had a limited formal education and threw himself into labor movement politics from an early age. In 1872 he joined the Eisenacher Socialist Group which merged with the Lassallean Socialist Group in 1875 to become the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Apart from a brief move to the more left-wing Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) in 1917 in protest at the party’s support for the war, Bernstein remained in the SPD for the rest of his life. Between 1881 and 1890 he edited the SPD newspaper, Der Sozialdemokrat, and, on and off, for some 18 years between 1902 and 1928 Bernstein represented the SPD in the German Parliament. Bernstein lived in Switzerland and London between 1878 and 1901 to avoid arrest under Prince Otto von Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws. While in London he worked closely with Friedrich Engels, and after Engels’ death he was named as executor of his estates and, with Karl Kautsky, his literary executor. Partly as a result of this close collaboration with Engels, Bernstein had great influence within the European Marxist movement.
   In 1899 Bernstein wrote a book called Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialmus (first published in English as Evolutionary Socialism), in which he put forward a revised interpretation of Marxism, which rejected the orthodox, economic determinist interpretation of Marxism. Bernstein argued that Marxism needed to be revised in light of the empirical evidence, the statistics and facts about society, gathered since Marx’s death. According to Bernstein, Marx had predicted a number of important things which were now proved to be false. These predictions included that classes in capitalist society would polarize into just two, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; that there would be a steady increase in the poverty and misery of the proletariat; that the number of unemployed would continually grow; that ownership and control of industry would become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands; and that economic crises in capitalism would become more acute until there was a catastrophic crash which would mark the end of capitalism.
   Bernstein said that the evidence did not support any of these predictions, and in particular there was no sign of the imminent collapse of capitalism. He argued that capitalism had developed certain selfstabilizing mechanisms, what he called “means of adaptation,” and these means of adaptation allowed it to stave off collapse indefinitely. The development of things like the credit system and cartels, according to Bernstein, meant that capitalism was a stable system able to avoid catastrophic crises. He also argued that there was every sign of a steady improvement in the situation of the working class through the efforts of the trade unions and the SPD in getting the government to pass measures to improve its welfare and working conditions. He suggested that Marxism as a science could be divided into two: the pure science which consists of the general laws and principles, and which he believed to still hold true, and the applied science, which consists of laws and predictions based on the application of the pure science, of the general laws, to specific circumstances. Applied science he saw as fallible and was where modifications were required.
   The key revisions Bernstein argued for were, first, that Marx’s science must be supplemented with ethics; the case for socialism, since its occurrence was not inevitable, had to be made on ethical grounds. Second, he argued that revolutionary change should be rejected in favor of reform. Bernstein believed in the steady advance of the working class by gradual reform and democratic socialization of political institutions and private property. By piecemeal reform there would be a gradual transition to socialism, but there was no definite line to cross from capitalism to socialism. In an evolutionary process capitalism would be increasingly permeated by socialism through reform.
   For Bernstein, the process of change was of much greater importance than the end goal. Socialism requires no predetermined goal to guide the tasks of socialists, only a general sense of direction. The shape of the future socialist society was of little consequence to Bernstein; what was important was the pursuit of socialist reforms in the here and now. Bernstein wrote, “The movement means everything for me and what is usually called the final aim of socialism is nothing.”

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • BERNSTEIN, EDUARD — (1850–1932), German socialist theoretician, spokesman for the socalled revisionist group which challenged orthodox Marxist doctrines. Born in Berlin, Bernstein was the son of a Jewish engine driver. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1872… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Bernstein, Eduard — born Jan. 6, 1850, Berlin, Prussia died Dec. 18, 1932, Berlin, Germany German politician and writer. He joined the German Social Democratic Party in 1872, then spent years in exile as an editor of socialist journals. In London he met Friedrich… …   Universalium

  • 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… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Bernstein, Eduard — ► (1850 1932) Político y escritor alemán. Jefe del Partido Socialista, sometió las doctrinas marxistas a una profunda crítica. * * * (6 ene. 1850, Berlín, Prusia–18 dic. 1932, Berlín, Alemania). Político y escritor alemán. Se unió al Partido… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Bernstein, Eduard — (1850 1932)    German propagandist. Born in Berlin, he joined the Marxist wing of the labour movement in 1872. He later left Germany for Switzerland and became editor of Der Sozialdemokrat in 1881. In 1888 he was expelled from the country, and… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Bernstein, Eduard —    See Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party of Germany …   Historical dictionary of Weimar Republik

  • Bernstein — Bernstein, Eduard …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Eduard Bernstein — 1895 Eduard Bernstein (* 6. Januar 1850 in Schöneberg b. Berlin; † 18. Dezember 1932 ebenda) war ein sozialdemokratischer Theoretiker und Politiker in der SPD und zeitweilig der USPD. Er gilt als Begründer des theoretischen …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Eduard Heinrich Rudolph David — Eduard David (1907) Eduard Heinrich Rudolph David (* 11. Juni 1863 in Ediger an der Mosel; † 24. Dezember 1930 in Berlin) war ein deutscher Politiker der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands (SPD). David stand seit den 1890er Jahren auf de …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Eduard Bernstein — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Eduard Bernstein (*Berlín, 6 de enero de 1850 18 de diciembre de 1932) fue un político alemán del SPD, considerado padre del revisionismo y uno de los principales fundadores de la socialdemocracia. Era descendiente… …   Wikipedia Español

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.