Introduction to Political Theory

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German parliament. Under renewed pressure from Bismarck, Bernstein was forced
to leave Switzerland, and went to London. In 1890 the party secured nearly 20 per
cent of the vote in the national elections and increased its number of MPs to 35.
By 1903 the Sozialistische Partei Deutschands (SPD) had 81 seats in parliament
(Gay, 1962: 230).

Bernstein, revisionism and the British tradition

Engels, who died in 1895, had already expressed his concern for Bernstein’s
enthusiasm for the Fabians – British socialists who explicitly rejected Marxism and
named themselves after the Roman emperor Fabius, famed for his step-by-step
approach to fighting war. Engels was to accuse the Fabians (whose society was
established in London in 1874) of ‘hushing up the class struggle’ (Gay, 1962: 106).
Bernstein was impressed by the tolerance and liberalism he found in London, so
much so that Karl Kautsky, then the great champion of Marxist orthodoxy, was
to declare Bernstein ‘a representative of English socialism’ (Gay, 1962: 80).
In 1899 Bernstein wrote his Evolutionary Socialism– described as the ‘bible of
revisionism’. Bernstein had been asked by Engels to be one of the executors of the
Marxist papers, and Bernstein was reluctant to accept that he had – in the theological
jargon which Marxists embrace – ‘revised’ Marxism. He argued that his critique
was a way of further developing Marxism: he was not destroying Marxism, since,
as he put it, ‘It is Marx who carries the point against Marx’ (1961: 27). But what
he argued was certainly explosive, and a different kind of socialism emerged in his

Bernstein’s argument

  • Bernstein took the view that small and medium-sized enterprises were proving
    themselves viable. Hence members of the possessing classes were increasing, not
    diminishing (1961: xxv). Society was not becoming more simplified (as the
    Manifestodeclared) but more graduated and differentiated (1961:49). Moreover,
    the constantly rising national product was distributed, albeit unequally, over all
    segments of the population, so that the position of the worker was improving
    (1961: 207). In agriculture, the small and medium landholding was increasing,
    and the large and very large decreasing (1961: 71).

  • He followed the Fabians by arguing that the theory of value or surplus value in
    Marxist theory was unnecessary. Depressions are becoming milder. Modern
    banking and the internationalisation of trade create adjustment and flexibility in
    capitalism – not breakdown.

  • He saw Marx’s emphasis on dialectics (the world consists of opposing forces) as
    a snare, uncritically taken over from Hegel. Why not assume that cooperation
    is just as important as struggle? Socialism must be based on the facts, and it is
    a fact that there is compromise and cooperation between the classes.

  • Ethical factors, in his view, create much greater space for independent activity
    than was seen to be the case in classical Marxism (1961: 15). The notion of

Chapter 10 Socialism 225
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