Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
inevitability – a fusion of what is and what ought to be – must be decisively
rejected. ‘No ism is a science’ (Gay, 1962: 158). Socialism is about what is
ethically desirable: science is about what is.

  • Democracy, for Bernstein, is ‘an absence of class government’ – it avoids both
    the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the minority. Democracy is the
    high school of compromise and moderation (1961: 142–4). The notion of the
    ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ has become redundant. Socialism seeks to make
    the proletarian into a citizen ‘and to thus make citizenship universal’ (1961: 146).

  • Socialism, declared Bernstein, is ‘the legitimate heir’ to liberalism ‘as a great
    historical movement’ (1961: 149). There is no really liberal thought that does
    not also belong to socialism. Industrial courts and trades councils involve
    democratic self-government (1961: 152). Socialism is ‘organising liberalism’ and
    requires the constant increase of municipal freedom (1961: 159). He was devoted
    to liberal parliamentarism (1961: 299), and if this parliamentarism becomes
    excessive, the antidote is local self-government.

  • The SPD must fight for all those reforms that increase the power of the workers
    and give the state a more democratic form (Gay, 1962: 225). Bernstein described
    the SPD as a ‘democratic-Socialist reform party’. Hence the trade unions, far
    from being schools for socialism (in Marx’s revolutionary sense), were concerned
    with practical and non-revolutionary improvements. Trade unions are, declared
    Bernstein, ‘indispensable organs of democracy’ (1961: 139–40).

  • He linked the practicality of trade unions with the empirical orientation of the
    cooperative movement (1961: 204). The class struggle continues, but it is taking
    ever-milder forms. Cooperatives, particularly consumer co-ops, encourage
    democratic and egalitarian forms of management.
    Bernstein exemplifies the dilemma of democratic socialism. How can the social-
    democratic party navigate between what Gay called the Scylla of impotence and
    the Charybdis of betrayal of its cause (Gay, 1962: 302)? How can it be ‘realistic’
    and yet remain socialist?

The British Labour Party and the Fabians

The British Labour Party has never been a party of theory. Although its members
(and some of its leaders!) may not even have heard of Bernstein, it is Bernsteinism
that provides the underpinning for its practice.
We have already mentioned the importance of the Fabians. The Fabian Society
became a kind of think-tank for the Labour Party. The Fabians were influenced by
the same kind of theories that so appealed to Bernstein – empiricism, a philosophy
that argues that our knowledge comes through the observation of ‘facts’ – and a
belief in piecemeal reform through parliamentary democracy. Socialism was not a
philosophy for life, but a highly focused doctrine that concerns itself with the
organisation of industry and the distribution of wealth. Examine Fabian pamphlets
today and what do you find? Specific proposals on organising the civil service, the
health service, tax reforms, social security benefits, European Monetary Union and
the like. Beatrice Webb (1858–1943), who played a key role in the Fabian Society
and in the formation of the Labour Party, took the view that the whole nation was
sliding into social democracy.

226 Part 2 Classical ideologies

Free download pdf