Eduard Bernstein, 1850-1932

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Portriat of Eduard Bernstein

German Social Democratic Party leader and main instigator of the "revisionist" version of Marxism. He set out his views in a series of articles for Kautsky's Die Neue Zeite in 1896 and 1898 which later emerged into his 1899 treatise. Bernstein denied the inevitability of "class conflict", the theory of increasing concentration of capital and sudden collapse of capitalism. As a result, he argued that Marxian socialists should pursue a more practical, piecemeal movement towards a socialist state within a parliamentary democratic context. Bernstein stressed the "idealist" side of the Hegelian dialectic which he felt Marx had abandoned too quickly. Later on, imbued with neo-Kantian thinking, he stressed the ethical side of socialism more and more. He was not a fan of the labor theory of value or the abstract nature of Marxian economics.

A Berlin bank clerk, Bernstein joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1872. He went into exile to Zurich in 1878 and then London in 1888, where he remained until 1901. During this time, he served as the editor of the socialist newspaper, Der Sozialdemocrat and became a friend and companion of Friedrich Engels and the Fabian Socialists. It was particularly the influence of the latter that gave rise to Bernstein's "revisionist" views. However, he would also use his close relationship with Engels to claim that the Marxian leader himself shared his views. Bernstein was also one of the main authors of the 1891 "Erfurt Program" for the SPD

Bernstein's 1896-99 ideas were bitterly disputed by orthodox Marxians such as Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky and Vladimir Lenin. They got the SPD to officially condemn revisionism in 1899, but the debate raged on in the party nonetheless. Returning to Germany in 1901, he became the leader the revisionist faction and expanded its appeal considerably among party members. In 1902, he was elected in the Reichstag. Always a pacificst, Bernstein resigned from party because of its support for the German war effort and founded an "independent" USPD. Although also opposed to the "majority" SPD, Bernstein did not support the more radical efforts of Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacist League. He rejoined the SPD after the war, served in government briefly in 1919 and, from 1920 to 1928, was a SPD delegate in the Reichstag and one of the more vocal opponents of the Nazi party.

Throughout this time, SPD remained officially a Marxist party, its theory remained "orthodox", with "revisionism" tolerated only as a minority opinion. It was only until 1959 where, at a famous Bad Godesburg conference, the SPD formally unloaded its Marxian theory and embraced its identity as a reformist worker's party -- as Bernstein had wanted all along.

Major Works of Eduard Bernstein

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