Eduard Bernstein from a Post-Revisionist Perspective
Nina Fishman
Polytechnic of Central London, Harrow College
Marxism Specialist Group
Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom Annual Conference, University of Lancaster, Lancaster, 15-17 April 1991

The controversial articles by Eduard Bernstein published in 1896-8 sparked off the first revisionist conflict in Marxism. The paper examines the conflict itself for the essential issues at stake. It also investigates the implications of the controversy for the political practice of the German Social Democratic Party. The effects of Party intellectuals' failure to address the issues raised by Bernstein are considered, and the crucial connection between "theory" and practice which Bernstein insisted upon is evaluated.

Eduard Bernstein from a Post-Revisionist Perspective
Eduard Bernstein's "apostasy" from Marxism caused an emotional and scarring controversy inside German social democracy and precipitated polemical warfare amongst Marxist intellectuals. The incident merits re-examination in the light of recent developments in East Central Europe and the Soviet Union. The layers of myth and slogan which have inevitably adhered to the controversy over a century have buried the actual points at issue. Bernstein's main warning to social democrats: that socialism could not emerge full-blown from a catastrophe or be imposed by some force majeure has relevance in assessing the tasks which Marxist parties set themselves in East Central Europe and the USSR.
The controversy did not centre around the current practice of German social democracy. Bernstein was concerned to alter the "theory", in fact the ideology and political culture of the Social Democratic Party. He believed that unless "theory" was adjusted, the party would sooner or later lose its ability to respond to events, and find itself caught in a seamless, but misleading web from which there was no escape. His observation about the relevance of a party's political culture to its practice continues to be timely for socialist parties. It is fruitful to investigate the collapse of Marxist parties in the USSR and East Central Europe in terms of the constraints imposed upon their freedom of movement by the actual substance of their ideologies. 1 am not here referring to physical or intellectual constraints imposed by state censorship, but to the inner logic and coherence of the ideology per se.
Bernstein's revisionism also raises the practical problem of how the coherence and credibility of a political party can be maintained amidst a lively and often acrimonious ideological conflict. This problem becomes acute whenever a strongly and dearly held element in a party's make-up comes under scrutiny. How should intellectuals react, as theorists or practitioners? Does the practitioners' desire to present an untarnished united front to the world not need to be checked by intellectuals? Because "Bernsteinism" was the first intellectual challenge to the fabric of socialism and Marxism, these issues can be seen with particular clarity if the historical residue of countless tellings and re-tellings is peeled away.

The Chronicle of Bernsteinism
I n November 1896, a series on "Problems of Socialism" by Eduard Bernstein began in Die Neue Zeit, the German socialist theoretical weekly. There were eight articles, the last appearing in the summer of 1898. (Steenson, 1978, p.116) As editor of Die Neue Zeit, Karl Kautsky published his friend Bernstein's articles in good faith, believing that they were part of a process of the social democratic movement's growth and maturation. Others, however, were outraged. They claimed to see an incubus within them which aimed at undermining the scientific truths of Marxism.
Bernstein's first article appeared barely a year after Engels' death. To many social democrats, including August Bebel, the charismatic leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), it seemed that Bernstein had only waited for the body to go cold before he attacked the foundations of Marxism. (Bebel and Bernstein were actually Engels' joint literary executors.) In 1880, Marx and Engels had enthusiastically approved Babel's plan to give Eduard Bernstein aid Karl Kautsky editorial responsibility for SPD propaganda. The imprimatur of the "old ones" bestowed immense prestige on the two younger men throughout the socialist movement. The relationship between Engels and Kautsky and Bernstein had deepened after Marx's death.
By 1898, a surprisingly heterogeneous and international collection of social democrats ranging from Bebel, Ernest Belfort Bax, Parvus, Victor Adler, Georgi Plekhanov, and Rosa Luxemburg had made common cause against Bernstein's "revisionism". His articles were debated at the SPD's Stuttgart congress in 1898, and again at the Hannover congress in 1899. Revisionism" was roundly condemned and pronounced unacceptable by the vast majority of delegates. In mounting their ideological battle, the anti-Bernsteinians tried to enforce a rigorous boundary: a man of Bernstein's convictions did not belong inside the pure Marxist SPD which remained true to the Erfurt Programme which Bernstein himself had jointly authored with Kautsky.
Though Bebel was at the forefront of these intellectual/emotional salvoes, he refrained from expelling Bernstein from the party. He hoped that Bernstein himself would feel obliged to resign, because of the lack of support for him at the congresses.(footnote1) (Gay, p.79-81.) Bebel exhorted Kautsky to mount a theoretical offensive against Bernstein to silence the controversy once and for all. Kautsky took pride in performing such political services for Bebel to order, and even in this case did not shirk from his task.
Bernstein refused to retract or even feel guilty. He remained inside the Party, and returned to Germany from his English exile in 1901 specifically in order to superintend his intellectual battle inside the Party. (Gay,pp.78-9. ) However, he was apparently not minded to become Marxism's Martin Luther. He had no intention of causing a divisive rift within the Party to which he had devotee;) his life. Even when his return was heralded by erstwhile epigones, he made no attempt to organise a faction or plan a takeover of the Party under the revisionist banner.
There were indeed substantial numbers of activists in the SPD who had no desire to ostracise Bernstein. Soon after his arrival in Germany, he gave a lecture to his supporters at the University of Berlin which provoked righteous alarm and renewed indignation from many of the Party faithful.(See fn.4) At the Lubeck congress in 1901, Bernsteinism was debated yet again- Bebel held the heresy-hunters at bay; after a heated debate, his resolution was passed which merely criticised the "'one-sided manner with which comrade Bernstein has conducted self-criticism in recent years'".(Gay, pp.255-6.) Bernstein's high standing with some sections of the Party was confirmed in December 1901 when the Breslau SPD

The SPD was visited by another outbreak of heresy-hunting against Bernstein in 1903. It was precipitated by an article in which he argued that the Party should claim the legitimate privilege after its impressive election victory of providing one of the Reichstag vice-presidents. He argued that the post would give the party "a fairer share in the management of parliamentary business". (Gay, p.231.) His unabashed proposal for breaching one of the Party's ideological cannons- to remain pure and untainted by contact with the state--produced a fresh debate on Bersteinism at the Dresden congress. Though there were no new arguments from either side, the occasion "dwarfed all the earlier Bernstein debates". (Gay, p.232) The left wing of the Party clearly wanted blood to expiate the offence committed against Marxism, the more monstrous because Marx and Engels had placed unconditional trust in its perpetrator.
Their expulsion demands were forestalled by a resolution sponsored by Bebel, Kautsky and Isaac Singer which merely rhetorically rejected revisionism. It was passed by 288 to 11. The 'ayes' included most of the reformists and pragmatic union leaders whom the left so despised. (Gay, pp.269-70) This result is usually interpreted as being a decisive rejection of Bernstein's ideas by those who agreed with him. In fact, it merely showed that the whole of the Party, including reformists and pragmatists, was tired of discussing "Bernsteinism"; and it was also clear that no one intended to surrender their entrenched positions. Emotions and energies generated on both sides in the dispute had finally spent themselves, and the vote reflected this general exhaustion. Bernstein remained unbowed. He continued to be active in the party, providing intellectual underpinning for the "reformists", a section of the party often derided for its "theoretical" paucity. (Steenson, 1981, p.211. )
The prolonged total war which emerged in the winter of 1914 produced an unprecedented and unexpected situation for most intellectuals and political practitioners in Europe. The coherence of political parties with developed ideological dispositions collapsed under this pressure, including the British Liberals, the German SPD, and French Socialists. In the realignment which took place within German socialism, Bernstein and Kautsky found themselves occupying the same political position once again. Bernstein played an important part in splitting the SPD Reichstag Fraktion on the question of support for the the war. Others of Bernstein's "reformist" allies joined him in opposing the war; some of Kaustky's former left wing associates went over to the pro-war majority. The revisionist controversy was finally subsumed by the new and vital division between pro- and anti-war positions.

Is Bernstein the first Marx reviser?
There is no academic consensus about the significance of Bernstein's revisionism. Peter Gay's judgement is typical of postwar received wisdom: "The significance of Revisionist Socialism, a theory for which Bernstein was almost solely responsible, is unquestioned. It is the only important challenge to Marxism that developed within German Social Democracy, and it takes its place beside Fabianism as one of the major modern philosophies of peaceful change towards socialism" (footnote 2)(Gay, p.21.) Beginning in the early 1970s, there was "a will [in West Germany] to take Bernstein's thought seriously, particularly among Social Democratic moderates... Significantly, Bernstein [also honored place in more detained scholarship..."(Morgan, p.529.)
However, recent academic works in English have played down the importance of the "revisionist" controversy and criticised the received wisdom for according Bernstein too much weight. Their authors have detected an unscholarly tendency to apotheosise Bernstein in order to find spiritual antecedents for modern social democracy. Roger Fletcher observes that:
Bernstein is still used as a synonym for revisionism when, in reality, he was never more than a symbol, and certainly not at any stage the 'leader' of the revisionist or reformist faction." (Fletcher, p.2.)
Bernstein had no influence on the prewar SPD....As a theorist and a practising politician, Bernstein fell on deaf ears, his failure being due, in the main, to his eclecticism, his naivete and his propensity to generalise from the inappropriate British models.", (Fletcher, pp.184-5.)
Gary Steenson concurs: "its [revisionism's] importance has usually been misinterpreted and the depth and substance of its theoretical content exaggerated by American and English scholars."(Steenson, 1978, p.117)
He adds: "...there is very little evidence that the SPD ever had more than one revisionist—Bernstein himself—in the years prior to World War I." (Steenson, 1981, p.211.)
The tendency to dismiss Bernstein's stand and the Party's reaction as a mere storm in a teacup is accurate enough as far as it goes. Bernstein did not even try to split the Party. He certainly lacked the character to become either a contemporary or posthumous hero. He was neither fiery, nor charismatic. He was by all accounts a miserable orator—a serious drawback for any ambitious practitioner in 19th century politics.(footnote 3)
Some academics conclude that what Bernstein should have done to win his fight was to embark on the more ambitious project of revising Marx in a comprehensive, systematic way. "From an intellectual perspective, the major problem of revisionism was its shallowness. Bernstein was primarily an autodidact who was ill-equipped to conduct a rigorous analysis of Marxism." He dabbled with fashionable neo-Kantianism, instead of grasping and utilising this alternative system to "provide a philosophically satisfying alternative to the dialectic and historical determinism". (Steenson, 1981, p.212)
Whilst it is undoubtedly interesting to speculate about the potential which neo-Kantianism had to slay the Marxist orthodox dragon, Bernstein had no intention of becoming the Saint Eduard to do the deed. He was, and remained, an unashamed political practitioner, who had strayed into thinking hard about "theory" because of his enforced exile. The trouble for Bernstein was that once he had started thinking from this different perspective, he was unable to dismiss what he found as being unimportant. He wrote to Bebel after the Stuttgart congress:
"You are in the political struggle; I was outside and remote from it.
Kautsky may be right in saying that I would think as you do if I were in
Germany. But whether I would be objectively more in the right is a different matter."(Tudors, p.327)
The not inconsiderable number of serious neo-Kantians in and around the SPD at the time did not feel that this philosophical approach could be profitably used to explode Marxist orthodoxy. Fletcher observes that the "foremost representative of the neo-Kantian position", Kurt Eisner, "saw himself, in 1918 as in 1904, as being in substantial agreement with Kautsky on all questions of political theory and practice....his conviction [was] that there was no logical inconsistency in holding that socialism was both scientifically determined and ethically desirable, that it was possible to marry Marx with Kant without doing violence to either." (Fletcher, p.113)
Hulse reckons that Bernstein was provoked to bring Kant into the revisionist debate by Plekhanov's accusation that he was really a Kantian and not a Marxist at all. (Hulse, pp.151-2) He also suggests that Plekhanov was aiming this rebuke obliquely at Jaures, whose academic thesis on the origins of German socialism had been translated from Latin into French and published in 1892. "In an un-Marxian manner, he [Jaures] offered an impressive demonstartion that the sense of justice and collective spirit that modern German socialism embodied could be traced to the teaching of Luther, and he attributed great importance to the idealism of Kant and Hege (Hulse, p151 )(footnote 4)

What Bernstein Saw
Bernstein identified two habits of thought in the SPD which had become reflexive and which he predicted would ultimately prevent the SPD functioning as a pragmatic party capable of pursuing desirable intermediate objectives. They were 1) the belief that the collapse of capitalism was imminent; and therefore 2) that the attainment of socialism was just the round the corner. He ruefully observed that these two "shibboleths" were essentially and inextricably entwined in socialists' thoughts.
Russell had drawn attention to this millenarian, chiliastic aspect of socialism in 1896, and explained its prevalence by the miserable conditions of the German working class and their need for ideological succour. (Russell, pp.155-62 ) Certainly, if socialists1 belief in capitalism's imminent demise had not been linked to their faith in the immediate arrival of of full-blown socialism, Bernstein might have made more headway against the prevalence of catastrophism. Kautsky never disavowed this kernel of Bernstein's argument. When Bebel exhorted him to demolish revisionism, the differences between himself and Bernstein which Kautsky chose to find were either distortions of Bernstein's position or mere "casuistry".(Gay's phrase, p.264, fn.19. )
In his series, "Problems of Socialism", Bernstein repudiated the distortion of his views, which both Bax and Parvus had transmitted. He denied ever saying or believing that the German working class would not confront a political crisis precipitated by the German ruling class. He readily agreed that this was all too possible. His actual point was that fully developed socialism could not and should not be expected to arise out of this "political catastrophe".(footnote 5)
"It never occurred to me to take a dogmatic line and deny the possibility of political catastrophes. Anyone who did that would be a very peculiar politician indeed. Even less would it occur to me to discourage the fullest possible exploitation of such catastrophes in order to achieve
"specific goals....! was opposing one specific theory of catastrophe, namely the view that the breakdown of bourgeois society and a consequent general catastrophe of major proportions are imminent. I believe this view to be misleading and therefore pernicious.
"Other catastrophes are certainly not impossible, and it is indeed a good thing to bear them in mind. There are categorical imperatives binding on political parties. Parties are the champions of specific interests which it is their duty to foster in every possible way. To neglect an opportunity to further this task is always a gross dereliction of duty, for, as often as not, opportunity only knocks once." (Tudors, pp.306-7)
Bax and Parvus selectively quoted Bernstein to expose his indifference to socialism. They said he had said that the movement was everything and the final goal nothing to him. Ever since, this most inspired of Bernstein distortions has been securely lodged in Marx scholars' mental armory. Bernstein replied in 1898:
"A movement without a goal would drift chaotically, for it would be a movement without direction. No goal, no direction. If the socialist movement is not to drift aimlessly without a compass, it must obviously have a goal towards which it consciously strives. However, this goal is not the realisation of a social plan but the implementation of a social principle. To the extent that the tasks of Social Democracy are not dictated by the current exigencies of the workers' struggle for political and economic emancipation, we can in fact (if we are to avoid a lapse into utopianism) formulate the goal of the socialist movement only as a principle, such as, 'the implementation of co-operation across the
board.'.....But although it [this phrase] identifies our goal, it tells
us nothing about the ways and means. These can be determined only by reference to present circumstances and must be related to the current state of the movement. It is for this reason that, given the general goal, our main concern is the movement itself and its progress towards this goal, whereas the various ways of envisaging the goal of this development are of no significance whatsoever. Indeed, history has a habit of drawing a thick line through all such speculations."(Tudors, p.212. )
Bernstein, in contradistinction to Bax and Parvus, did not believe that "socialism" was likely to arise out of the ashes of any political revolution/economic catastrophe. He reflected that in the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event, it would be virtually impossible for a government to fulfil his stated "socialist" goal of "'co-operation across the board1".
"At any time it can become necessary for the working classes to resort to extreme measures in the struggle for their rights. If the blindness of the ruling authorities in Germany were to drive them to this point, then the German workers whatever self-respect and self-affirmation required of them....But this is not the question that exercises me. My topic was, and is, that of the socialist transformation of the basis of social existence, the socialisation of production and exchange. And I maintain that nowadays Social Democracy can do more in this field as an opposition party than it could if it suddenly gained control through some catastrophe."(Tudors, p.221. )
"There has never yet in history been a radical change of such widespread
significance as that which Social Democracy strives to achieve. All the more unlikely that it could be accomplished by a catastrophe. Such a
change demands long and thorough work. And let it not be thought that, because everyday work is concerned with little things, it is of less value than large-scale campaigns. It is precisely the little things which are often of the greatest significance. In the modern working-class movement, what matters is not the sensational battles but the ground gained piecemeal by hard, unremitting struggle." (Tudors, p.222)
Bernstein cited a most orthodox Marx gobbit on the desirability of proceeding towards socialism through peaceful means without the catastrophist rite of passage. He agreed with Marx:
"Now I am—and in this I believe I have the great mass of Social Democrats behind me—of the opinion that since we are concerned to make recourse to catastrophe unnecessary, it is our duty to take effective action to this end. The party's whole approach to legislative issues is governed by this idea. With regard to reforms, we ask, not whether they will hasten this catastrophe which could bring us to power, but whether they further the development of the working class, whether they contribute, to general progress." (Tudors, p.307.)
The intemperate reaction of Parvus and then Luxemburg against Bernstein was due to his rejection of catastrophism as the path to instant socialism. They were furious that the positive, creative power of mass action to destroy capitalism was being dismissed as Blanquisim and Jacobinism; Bernstein had betrayed Marx and was brazenly indifferent about the "final goal" of the movement. Bernstein riposted by citing the later Marx and Engels against their earlier selves. They too had become alert to the dangers of unrealistic expectations from political crises; They also recognised the gradual modification, indeed transformation of Capitalism within capitalism, through working class political action, as in the struggle to win the legal limitation of the working day, but also in the development of capitalism itself, e.g. in the emergence of the joint stock company and even co-operative forms of ownership.

Bernstein's "revisionism" vs. Kautsky's "orthodoxy"

Kautsky and Victor Adler initially wanted Bernstein to proceed with his articles because they recognised these "unthinking" shortcomings of the Party faithful. Adler wrote to Kautsky that Kautsky and Bernstein were both engaged in "slogan-shooting" which was "very, very is a good thing that the vogue for catastrophe tactics should be displaced by an opposite trend; we're already seeing changes to something shrewder than before. Look, it's like this: this year I've given ten lectures on the party programme, and one sharp comrade said to me: 'Why you're talking against the party programme, not about it.' There were intelligent people there, you see, and as I talked I got obsessed with showing them that some of our slogans were generalisations and that things aren't actually as simple as pie. They looked rather surprised, but it did me and them a power of good, and none of us are worse Social Democrats as a result." (Tudors, p.224. )
On their own, the Parvus/Luxemburg grouping inside the SPD were insufficiently powerful to mount an attack on Bernstein. Parvus et al did no more than provide the spark. It required Bebel, Kautsky and other Party luminaries, like Clara Zetkin and Wilhelm Liebknecht, to produce
the full-scale conflict which pre-occupied the Party for seven years. . In 1896, Kautsky had been unconcerned about publishing Bernstein's articles on "Problems of Socialism". He did not consider them either exceptional or threatening for the Party. Indeed, he felt that they would strengthen the Party's theoretical side. In 1898, he was still circumspect in his criticisms and unwilling to engage in histrionics. He told the Stuttgart congress that he had not replied to the articles, even though he disagreed with them, because he felt that others would, and certainly should. He welcomed intellectual disputation about the more intricate parts of Marxism. (Tudors pp.293-8 and Geary, pp.41-3)
Kautsky's "objections" to Bernstein focused on a very narrow part of the articles' concern. Moreover, he emphasised that the problem was one of "ambiguities to be removed" rather than fundamental points of division. Bernstein's point about the absence of serious crises of capitalism was merely "a question of the speed of development [which] is certainly a matter of instinct, of temperament". He then emphasised his own surprise that "Bernstein should feel it necessary to emphasise a number of points as being especially crucial when, in fact, there is no disagreement about them." He waxed indignant that Bernstein "sees us as Blanquists, speculating on a clash with the armed forces, etc. I do not believe that there is a single member of the party who entertains this idea." (Tudors, pp.296-7. )
After 1898, Kautsky became increasingly antagonistic towards Bernstein: he was eager to demolish revisionism and proceed with helpful, hopeful socialist theorising. Nevertheless, it has been difficult for conscientious academics to detect substantial differences between the first heretic and the first pope of Marxism. (See, for example, Hulse, -p.154) Gay remarks that Kautsky's critique of Bernstein is much less convincing than Luxemburg's (Gay, p.262; p.264, fn.19. ), doubtless because Luxemburg and Bernstein did actually profoundly disagree. Fletcher concludes: "Kautsky and Bernstein both envisaged Social Democracy as a surrogate bourgeoisie whose task was to complete the bourgeois revolution as the necessary prerequisite to socialism in Germany." (Fletcher, p.115) Geary notes somewhat incredulously that Kautsky failed to mark out any "specific tactic" as being revisionist, and there was therefore no critical line of division between Bernstein and the rest of the Party which could have "serve!d ] to root out the heresy". (Geary, p.39.)

Bernstein's challenge to the Social Democratic glue
Because of the amount of emotional time and energy consumed inside the SPD by the revisionism controversy, scholars have understandably felt called upon to find some significant divisions between Bernstein and Kautsky. They usually discern a serious difference between the two men over how socialism would arrive in Germany. Bernstein is supposed to have argued that socialism would evolve without violent class confrontation, whilst Kautsky is said to have argued that it could not possibly do so in Germany with her state machine and standing army. (For example, Geary, pp.6-7 and Steenson, 1981, p.211.) Bebel and then Kautsky certainly decided that they disagreed with Bernstein on this point at the time. They concluded that he had consciously or unconsciously assimilated English culture and English ways. Thus, his deracination explained his uncharacteristically dogmatic insistence that socialist development would occur everywhere in "the English fashion". 9
Having found no significant intellectual point of difference between Bernstein and his previous close colleagues, we are also confronted by the same question: why were so much time, energy and emotion spent by all sides in the controversy? If Bernstein was in fact still within the orthodoxy of Marxism, why were the centre so determined to ostracise him and declare "revisionism" out-of-bounds?
Bernstein was not trying to alter the SPD's quotidien conduct in 1896-8. He readily acknowledged that this was not catastrophist. He specifically set out to change habits of thought and long-term orientations, not short-term tactics or programme.
"In fact the German party has often enough, or rather always, practised opportunism. At all events, its policy has always been more correct than its rhetoric. For this reason I have no intention of reforming the actual policy of the party (apart from subordinate points...). My aim— an aim I must have as a theoretician...—is to create unity of theory and reality, of formulation and action. In the normal run of things, dualism can be bridged by fudging. (I use the word without malice; I've fudged often enough myself, and at times fudging is the only possible solution.) But when things come to a head it becomes fatal." (Tudors, pp.323-324)
Bernstein was not even opposed to the Party having ideologically partial and politically orientated assumptions which were neither
"scientifically" nor "theoretically" exact. "Socialism as a science has tasks different from those of Social Democracy as a militant party. The latter, as defender of specific interests, may, within certain limits, be dogmatic and even intolerant. Its decisions on matters concerning action are binding until the party itself cancels or changes them. The same goes for the statements in its programme which define its character and aims." (Tudors, p.245.)
He objected to the specific dogma which had the socialist Minerva springing fully formed out of the head of the capitalist Catastrophe. He believed in political catastrophes, but disputed the assumption that they were so integral to capitalist life that one was always round the corner. He showed that Marx and Engels believed that when a catastrophe did occur, it would not automatically bring socialism in its wake. He also pointed to SPD practice to prove that Social Democrats took great care to see that the party should not precipitate such a catastrophe by their actions. His aim was to bring party dogma in line with this practice.
" a party, German Social Democracy has never allowed itself to be Led very far astray by errors in its theory. It has been preserved from this fate partly by the common sense of its leaders and partly by force of circumstance. In any case, such mistakes are not very dangerous when the party is still young. But the party's responsibilities increase with its power, and so does the need to be completely clear about where one stands." (Tudors, p.327)
"The danger inherent in the notion of an imminent and total collapse of bourgeois society is that it may cause us to neglect some of those intermediate steps which, whatever else happens, lie on the road to our goal••••The thought of a great and comprehensive objective is certainly uplifting, but a more limited and therefore more accessible objective can inspire the greatest enthusiasm, given the conviction that it must and can be attained. No-one can foresee whether, in the struggle for
political rights, a conjuncture of circumstances will bring the working' class to power. We can, however, say that, unless its present rights are extended, its political power is unlikely to increase." (Tudors, p.308)
The Party leadership could have applied its collective mind to the problem which Bernstein raised in 1898 without undue risk. If they had decided to grasp the nettle of catastrophism then, they might well have achieved Bernstein's object without any long-term damage to the party's political credibility. But the fate which Bernstein sorrowfully predicted for the Party was not immediately on the horizon, as he readily admitted. It seemed very far away, in both time and intellectual space. Those Party leaders who recognised the accuracy of Bernstein's arguments responded in an all too human way. They declined to deal with the "problem" which he articulated, because in 1898 almost everyone felt fine doing one thing and whilst saying that they were doing another.
Bebel and the Party faithful silenced Bernstein because they preferred to not to have a guilty conscience. They knew perfectly well that their behaviour waspersistently inconsistent with their professed beliefs. It was precisely because catastrophism acted as a powerful adhesive, masking their habitual contradictions, that they clung to it so obstinately. The more unthinking pragmatists in the Party were content to allow the centre their "catastrophism" because they were well aware that it was this ideological sop which in turn permitted them to pursue opportunist courses of action.
The phenomenon of German Social Democrats professing one thing and doing another was understood well enough by contemporary observers. Russell had lectured about it at the LSE in 1896. (Russell, pp.133-37) In the years after Bernstein's defeat, the gulf between SPD "theory" and "practice" became even greater and more notorious. Max Beer recalled Bebel's rousing speech in the 1904 debate at the Second International which attacked the French socialists who had "compromised" by accepting cabinet posts in a "bourgeois" government. He had then made the unsolicited admission to Beer in private that he saw nothing wrong with such conduct.(Beer, pp.126-32 and pp.148-52.)
In 1898, the Party leadership would have had to be very determined and perspicacious to acknowledge and deal with Bernstein's prophecy: there were only negative disruptions and aggravations to be gained in the short-term by so doing. Moreover, Bebel was alert to the dangers to Party unity from his left flank. Because Parvus, Luxemburg, et al viewed inner party struggles to maintain established orthodoxy as being an important part of their mission, Bebel could appease them on this "theoretical" matter without giving any serious ground in the real world.

How the social democratic intellectuals became stuck in the Party glue.
Bernstein knew that his real task lay in convincing intellectuals who dealt in the subtleties and nuances of Marx and Engels. He had, after all, been one of them and understood the importance of providing theoretical glosses to order in order to sustain the Party leadership's , positions. He recognised that "theory" was the essential underpinning to the shibboleths he was attacking. Only intellectuals could make the new horizons and goals which he envisaged attractive and important for the faithful. He told Bebel:
"It only takes a number of skilful writers in the main organs of the party to carry on writing in this fashion for a climate of opinion to be created for a while, a kind of intellectual terrorism, to which everything else will submit willy-nilly or will, at least, be obliged to
render account.....I have after all been 'one of them1 and am therefore
not deceived when you say that 99 per cent of the party is against me. Most of them are against me because they don't understand me, because they are on the wrong track; they find in my articles things which aren't there because they've been made drunk on sonorous phrases and captivating dialectic....
"The party has already gone through several metamorphoses. It grew to greatness without the illusion of an imminent 'final goal'....Nor need we fear that, in losing certain presuppositions, Social Democracy would also lose its justification. Only certain illusions would be lost, and new ideals would fire our hearts in place of the old. In this respect, your faith is weaker than mine. My road is slower, but it leads upwards. Yours leads to a precipice beyond which you see the Promised Land...." (Tudors, pp.327-8)
But orthodox and reformist social democratic intellectuals chose not to dwell on Bernstein's undistorted position precisely because they found it profoundly depressing. They preferred to dismiss "Ede's foibles" rather than come to terms with its implications. Kautsky was a sanguine optimist by nature, and disliked anything which forced him to deal with the "unpleasant side" of human affairs. His early social Darwinism rendered him permanently inclined to believe that all things turned out for the socialist best, and that he had chosen the triumphal side in the human progress towards a better socialist life. ( Steenson,1978 )
Kautsky was driven by the force of events towards pessimism in the first decade of the new century. He saw clearly enough that the Reich's political system and intensifying contradictions within it were likely to lead to political catastrophe. Despite this clear vision, he and his intellectual colleagues did not develop any political means by which the Party could respond to this worsening situation. No contingency plans were drawn up by the Party's general staff to be utilised by the practitioners in the field in contingencies.
There was no strategy in which the SPD had a public and feasible way out of the all too visible and growing impasse which could have been adapted according to circumstances, but would at the very least have aimed to strengthen parliamentary prerogative inside the Reich. Open discussion of these matters was routinely denounced for being Cassandra-like and irresponsible by the sanguine theoreticians, and then suppressed by a combination of their "intellectual terrorism" and pressure from party managers. The intellectuals took their cue from Bebel and his successors; they chose not to stray outside the permitted bounds of Party discourse.
Nevertheless, the SPD's collective energies were increasingly pre¬occupied in internal sectarian battle. This investment of the Party's precious human resources yielded few positive results compared to the
amount of time and effort invested by intellectuals, activists, and part managers. These intensifying internal conflicts reflected the core inconsistency to which Bernstein had pointed and offered his own solution in 1896-8. The Party's position in the Reichstag had become even stronger and potentially more powerful in the intervening years. Accordingly, there were greater opportunities for the Party to actually influence the course of politics and affect civil society. However, the ideological orientation of the Party remained catastrophist and uncompromising. Not surprisingly, it became increasingly tortuous and tortured in trying to make each, small pragmatic move whilst saying it was actually doing the pure socialist other.
The "left" ensured that the centre could not abandon orthodoxy without a damaging internal battle. They were not only able to cite "theory". They also deployed the upsurges of working class militancy which were occurring regularly in the first years of the new century to reinforce their catastrophist case. They claimed that their revolutionary activism was closer to the working class than either the Fraktion or the General Commission (TUC ) "bureaucrats". In other countries, comparable leaders found little difficulty in utilising the militant proletariat of the new century for their own ends. (In Britain, parallel upsurges of militancy were incited and directed by Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Vernon Hartshorn and Noah Ablett towards extending and strengthening trade union organisation and making it more responsive to the "rank and file". )
At the centre, Kautsky and colleagues faced a dual if not treble task. They firstly defended socialist orthodoxy against the South German "reformists" and trade union pragmatists: democratic political goals were not worth taking seriously because they were not socialist. They countered the left's desire to incite civil unrest and proletarian militancy in order to catch the ruling class off their guard by arguing that repression and withdrawal of civil rights would be the only real results. The SPD would achieve neither its actual political demands nor would there be an increase in working class political power. Military repression and new legal disabilities were the most likely outcomes. After all this shadow boxing, the intellectuals then had to provide the theoretical justification for the Party's limited pragmatic turn: not as much as the reformists and pragmatists wanted, but more than the left had said they would stomach. It is little wonder that they became exhaustedi and produced repetitive and unconvincing propaganda.
The intractable class prejudice of German bourgeois political parties and the Kaiser's preponderant power are usually cited as reasons why the SPD was hopelessly painted into a barren corner for many years prior to August 1914. Whilst these factors certainly lessened the SPD's chances of achieving greater democratic political rights before the war, this vital political terrain could still have been claimed by the SPD as important ground to occupy. By marking out the importance of these intermediate political goals, the SPD would have laid claim to the real terrain of immediate political struggle which would considerably facilitate its self-proclaimed task of "developing a socialist society". By rejecting Bernstein's "revisionism", the Party had condemned itself to slowly but surely grinding to a halt. Advancing simply consumed more and more time, emotion and energy.
The 1905-6 dispute in the SPD about the mass strike is often used by scholars as evidence to prove that the Party was actually addressing the stasis and impasse which Wilhelmine politics was producing in such great abundance. The dispute was the unintended by-product of the growing tension between a vigorous, self-confident German trade union movement, and a political party which was not accustomed to being challenged in its claims to leadership of the working class. The debates never involved any serious consideration of how the mass strike might be practically deployed in the real world of the Reich.
Rosa Luxemburg wanted the mass strike as a prelude to "socialist revolution". Carl Legien, the head of the free trade unions, and Bebel both agreed that neither the Party or the unions would indulge in the folly of financing strike pay for an open-ended general strike. A formidable number of centrists and reformists, including Bernstein, Kautsky and Legien, agreed that there were actual "circumstances" which might make the mass strike a weapon which Social Democrats would adopt to defend democratic political rights. (Moses, pp.145-57.) No participant, from Bernstein to Luxemburg, took the prospect of a mass strike as a practical possibility.

Bernstein's nemesis arrives all too soon....

When Bernstein failed to achieve the fundamental change in ideological orientation which he had so earnestly desired, he settled down uncomplainingly to make his political life inside the most pragmatic part of the SPD. He participated in the Party's sclerosis, which intensified as its political options became increasingly constricted by its "theory". He shared in the bitter fruits from the SPD's refusal to pursue courses of action because they embodied "only" intermediate demands which fell short of "socialism" by which, nevertheless, socialists could have extricated German civil society from its political stalemate. He accepted the effects of the Party's imperfect and ultimately debilitating orthodox "theory", and he did not wither in the isolation which his former best friends imposed to show that they rejected his "English" ways.
The objection which is made to Peter Gay's and recent German admiration and praise for Bernstein is that firstly, he was marginal to the Party's destiny and secondly that he was misleading in predicting a catastrophe-less march to socialism. Whilst Bernstein's conduct as a person was ultimately marginal to the SPD's destiny, he tried to alter the SPD's political course, at a crucial point: before it had become fully set and ossified. It is the fact that he saw clearly what the likely result would be if catastrophism continued to hold sway that makes him notable, not that he succeeded. The second point, that he failed to predict the catastrophes which befell capitalism arising out of the 1914-18 war is simply meretricious.
We have already seen that Bernstein did not argue that political catastrophes were unlikely. Whilst the war was certainly a political catastrophe for bourgeois society, it was not the comprehensive and inevitable capitalist crisis in which the SPD faithful had believed so devoutly. Moreover, as the trade unionists who stayed at their posts on both sides of the English Channel discovered, it proved to be the working class' unrivalled opportunity. Roger Fletcher has recently reminded us that Bernstein saw only too well the impending war between Britain and Germany. Moreover, unlike others in the SPD who were also alive to this increasing probability, Bernstein had his say publicly and did his best
to avert the conflagration. Because he had decided in 1896 that catastrophes were not going to help socialism, he was able to work openly and in good conscience to try to prevent the war.
The development of civil society in both Britain and Germany which occurred in the crucible of this total war favoured the working class and trade unions. Union leaders were determined to seize their opportunity. As John Moses has shown for Germany, and as we have long known about the majority of British union leaders, their primary concern was to advance the unions' place in the production process and ensure that their members' exploitation by employers was not intensified.
The General Commission in Germany were able to take much greater advantage of the wartime circumstances than their British counterparts, because they had spent much of the early years of the 20th century thinking about, reflecting deeply upon and finally refining their intermediate goals and their vision of how trade unions could assist an evolutionary socialism. (Moses, pp.128-43; pp.189-215.) Their intellectual development of such intermediate aims also stands in stark contrast to the SPD's continued refusal to move into this terrain except in a piecemeal fashion, hedged with caveats and ideological denials. The contrast is more poignant when we recall that most of the free trade union leaders were prominent SPD members; Legien was an SPD member of the Reichstag.
In Britain, the Labour Party in Parliament did not have to shoulder the main responsibility for the war on the left. The 'bourgeois' Liberal Party reaped the fruits of its dominance, and had to embark upon war on its own. It was thus the Liberal Party in Britain which was broken by the war, not Labour. By 1918, Arthur Henderson and Ramsay Macdonald were busily engaged in laying the political ground for Labour to collect its reward from the Liberals' demoralisation and collapse. In Germany, the fate for the SPD which Bernstein had predicted finally materialised with a vengeance. Because the SPD had the substance of the political power without its "legal" side, the Party Fraktion faced the far less palatable options of committing political suicide or acquiescing in the Reich's prosecution of the war.
Predictably, the Fraktion decided to support the war (as both Kautsky and Bebel had privately recognised that it would have to do), without gaining anything in return for its submission. It was outside the Fraktion's and the Party's range of vision to consider the likelihood that they would have to agree to war, and to have their list of minimum "intermediate" demands in readiness with which to bargain in such an eventuality. Their failure to do so had serious repercussions after August 1914, when there was no way in which new political goals could have been superimposed in this dramatic crisis situation. Had the Party agreed on "intermediate" demands before 1914, a list of them would have been permanently lodged in Philip Scheidemann's pocket, (and familiar to all SPD activists and other politicians alike), ready and waiting to be produced without thought in just such an emergency.
Practical goals, particularly of a structural nature, simply cannot emerge suddenly or indeed credibly from an established, influential political party. Agreement on their form and desirability are not automatic, and it requires both time and dedicated enthusiasm from those proposing them to ensure they are accepted throughout the institution. 15
It was the orthodox and reformist intellectuals who abjured from thought about how the SPD should deal with a political catastrophe which they knew could not bring socialism in its wake. On the trade union side, the leadership argued for the advance of their members' immediate interests through collective agreements and co-determination from the onset of the war, because they had pursued these "intermediate" goals self-consciously and determinedly since the 1890s. It took little effort to adapt their case to suit the new wartime circumstances, in which the balance of power had altered so dramatically in favour of the working class.
There has been general condemnation meted out to the new generation of party leaders, notably Noske and Scheidemann, who "made" the 1918-19 revolution so clumsily and indeed thoughtlessly. It seems reasonable to conclude that these practitioners1 initial bewilderment, pathetic confusion and later blunders were caused at least partly by the centre, orthodox social democratic intellectuals1 earlier refusal to address these forbidden questions. At least, the left intellectuals knew what they wanted to see emerge from a collapse of the Reich.
It is evidently difficult to construct an exciting portrait about Eduard Bernstein capable of satisfying the somewhat jaded mental palates of late 20th century students whom one wishes to tempt to read about Marxism. Nevertheless, Bernstein's conduct of his political life presents a very human paradox. His predictions about the SPD were all too accurate. Moreover, he was one of the few Party intellectuals who dared to utter in public what they all discussed at their dinner tables. But he forbore to become an iconoclast, an intellectually pure pariah/prophet of righteous doom. He remained a political practitioner, who believed that the ideological millieu within which he functioned was likely to prove ultimately debilitating and probably fatal for the party which he could not leave and which his efforts and commitment had been so important in building.

Beer, Max, Fifty Years of International Socialism, London, 1935. Bernstein, Eduard, Evolutionary Socialism, Ann Arbor, 1961. Fletcher, Roger, Revisionism and Empire, Allen & Unwin, 1984.
Gay, Peter, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism, Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx, Octagon, New York, 1983.
Geary, Dick, Kautsky, Manchester, 1987.
Hulse, James W., Revolutionists in London, Clarendon, Oxford, 1970.
Morgan, David W., "The Father of Revisionism Revisited: Eduard Bernstein", The Journal of Modern History, Vol.51, No.3, September 1979.
Moses, John A., Trade Unionism in Germany from Bismarck to Hitler, 1869-1933, vol. I, 1869-1918, London, 1982.
Nettl, J.P., "The German Social Democratic Party, 1890-1914, as a political model", Past and Present, No.30, Sept.1965.
Pachter, Henry, "The Ambiguous Legacy of Eduard Bernstein", Dissent, Spring 1981.
Russell, Bertrand, Six Lectures on German Social Democracy, London, 1896
Steenson, Gary, Karl Kautsky, 1854-1938, Marxism in the Classical Years, Pittsburgh, 1978.
Steenson, Gary, "Not One Man! Not One Penny!" German Social Democracy, 1863-1914, Pittsburgh, 1981.
Tudor, H., and Tudor, J.M., Marxism and Social Democracy, The Revisionism Debate 1896-1898, Cambridge, 1988.
Articles by Eduard Bernstein translated by H. and J.M. Tudor
p.212, and pp.221-2: "Critical Interlude", Neue Zeit (NZ), 1.3.1898. Bernstein explains the title: "I interrupt the series already begun, "The Struggle of Social Democracy", in order to reply to certain remarks occasioned by my article on the theory of collapse." (Tudors, p.226)
p. 245: Bernstein's note to "The Realistic and the Ideological Moments in Socialism", ("Problems of Socialism", second series, NZ no.34, 1898.)
pp.306-7: "The Conquest of Political Power, Vorwarts, 13.10.1898.
pp.323-4; pp.327-8: Bernstein's letter to Bebel, 20.10.1898. The letter was written after the Stuttgart congress, and Bernstein asked Bebel to read it to the SPD executive.

1. Gay concludes that Bebel had determined to expel Bernstein, but was dissuaded by Victor Adler's championship, of Bernstein. Adler disagreed with him, but wrote to Bebel that Bernstein "'was one of the best of the party, a man who had brought into the open the doubts which all Socialists often felt."1 (Gay, p.81, Adler to Bebel, 1.11.1898.)
asked him to stand in a by-election there for the Reichstag. He was elected with Bebel's active support, and continued to play an important part in the Party's parliamentary affairs up to 1914. (Gay, pp.25b-7. Steenson, 1981, p.214.)

2. Peter Gay's book, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism, Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx, was first published in 1952, and was reprinted without revision in 1962, 1979 and 1983. Gay added a short postscript in 1961. It remains the only substantial examination of Bernstein's life and writings in English.

3. His speech at the University of Berlin was heard by an excited student audience, who had been inspired by his articles in Neue Zeit. The expectation was that he would declare an ideological crusade inside and around the Party based upon his iconoclastic pronouncements. However, his speech was flat and disappointing; nor Bernstein did exhort the audience to missionary work on behalf of his ideas, (Gay, n.,48,p.156. ) 5
offered an impressive demonstration that the sense of justice and collective spirit that modern German socialism embodied could be traced to the teachings of Luther, and he attributed great importance to the idealism of Kant and Hegel."(Hulse, p.151)

4.Bertrand Russell began his first lecture on German Social Democracy with a quote from Engels about German socialists being-proud of their descent from Kant, Fichte and Hegel. (Russell, p.l. )

5. Until the Tudors' translation appeared in 1988, there was no English access to Bernstein's refutations. The English translation of Die Vorraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, published in German in 1899, which appeared in 1909 as Evolutionary Socialism, was reprinted in 1961 and continues to be the main English source for assessing revisionism. Bernstein wrote the book under pressure from Kautsky to provide a "full" theoretical statement of his views. (Kautsky then tendentiously dismantled the book and studiously evaded its main political thrust.) Moreover, the English translation is both incomplete and flawed. The replies to Parvus and Bax written in 1898 are Bernstein at his most lapidary and revealing. Nevertheless, the Tudors1 translation has already been allowed to go out of print!