Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
Bernstein is a case in point. On the one hand, he saw himself as a positivist who
stuck rigorously to the facts. On the other hand, since he was living in a society
which was clearly not socialist, socialism is, he tells us, a piece of the beyond –
something which ought to be, but is not (Gay, 1962: 158, 163). Abstract ‘realism’
coexists with abstract utopianism. The role of ethics is not integrated into a concern
with the facts, and Marck has pointed out that such a theory can pay too much
attention to ‘short-run developments’, ruling out in a dogmatic fashion dramatic
and unanticipated actions, ‘apparently contradicted by the happenings of the day’
(Gay, 1962: 162).
Bernstein’s position on economic concentration bears this out. As Gay comments,
after 1924 German industry centralised and cartelised as never before (1962: 172).
The trends that he analysed in 1899 were not irreversible. In the same way Bernstein
assumed that a new middle class would be democratic and pro-socialist. Yet anyone
who knows anything about German history after the First World War, comments
Gay, ‘will recognize the fallacious assumptions of Bernstein’s theory’. Inflation and
the world depression traumatised large groups within the German middle classes:
they saw descent into the proletariat as a horrendous possibility (Gay, 1962: 215).
Bernstein’s analysis put into the context of Germany between the wars, turned out
to be wishful thinking. Whether government through a representative parliament
can work depends upon the social structure and political institutions of a country

  • it allows of no dogmatic answer (Gay, 1962: 236). Once we see that reality is in
    movement, then we can fuse Utopia and realism. Utopia derives from the
    transformation of existing realities: but this Utopia is not to be located outside
    existing realities, it is part of them. In arguing that socialism must be a ‘utopian
    realism’, we avoid the dualism between facts and values, Utopia and reality, a
    dualism that bedevils so many exponents of socialism, whether of the right or the
    left. Bernstein’s argument that socialists should always avoid violence is right under
    some circumstances, but it could hardly apply when the Hitler leadership in Germany
    destroyed parliamentary institutions and embraced fascism.
    As argued in Chapter 11 on anarchism, we need a state as long as humanity
    cannot resolve its conflicts of interest in a peaceful manner. For Bernstein because
    the state exists, it is here to stay! The ‘so-called coercive associations, the state and
    the communities, will retain their great tasks in any future I can see’ (Gay, 1962:
    246). But to identify the state with community, and regard its mechanisms for
    settling difference as only apparently ‘coercive’, shows how far ‘pure’ social
    democracy is still steeped in the abstract aspects of the liberal tradition.
    Gay is surely right when he comments that Bernstein’s optimism was not well
    founded: it took short-run prosperity and converted it into a law of capitalist
    development (1962: 299). If, as A.J. Taylor has said, Marx was a dogmatic optimist
    (Marx and Engels, 1967: 47), so was Bernstein. Socialism requires a conditional
    concept of inevitability and a dialectical determinism – one that takes full account
    of human agency – so that it is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but is a utopian

234 Part 2 Classical ideologies

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