BERNSTEIN Eduard—propagator of socialistic democracy, political theoretician, historian, b. January 6, 1850 in Berlin, d. December 18, 1932 in Berlin.

In 1872 Eduard Bernstein joined the Social-Democratic Party and became involved in editing “Die Zukunft”. He desired to unite Germany and democracy as a political system. An economic crisis that lasted from 1873 to the 1890 and Bismarck’s antisocialist laws caused his views to become radical. He left Germany for Switzerland where with Marx’s consent he became the editor of the Swiss version of “Der Sozialdemokrat”, a periodical that was a focal point for the underground activity of the socialist party. Bernsteain was deported from Switzerland at Bismarck’s request and continued to publish the periodical in London. There he became a close collaborator with F. Engels and met the leaders of the Fabian Society, which propagated the idea of a gradual development of socialism.

Bernstein presented his views in a series of articles and letters at a congress of the Social-Democratic Party in Stuttgart in 1898. A year later he published Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie. When he returned to Germany in 1901, he became a theoretician for the growing school of reformers of the labor movement. In 1902 he was elected to the Reichstag and was re-elected many times up to 1928. During this period revisionism became the ideology of the Social-Democratic Party. Bernstein protested the Socialist Party’s support for German war operations during the First World War. In 1918 he opposed attempts to transform the German political revolution into a proletarian revolution. In 1919 he works as secretary of state in the area of economy and finance. He also opposed the assumption of power by A. Hitler’s National-Socialist Party.

His works: Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie (St 1899, 19212); Zur Geschichte und Theorie des Sozialismus (B 1901, 19012, 4 editions under a different title: Zur Theorie und Geschichte des Sozialismus, I–III, B 1904); Wie ist wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus möglich? (B 1901); Entwicklungsgang eines Sozialisten (L 1930).

Bernstein was one of the first to attempt to reform Marx’s views that the collapse of the capitalist economic system was inevitable and that the proletariat must assume power. He is called “the father of revisionism” and propagated a type of socialist democracy in which private property would be preserved while at the same time social reforms would be introduced. He held that socialism is a necessary result of liberalism, that it is not only an effect of anti-capitalist revolution, but more so an expression of man’s natural desire. He did not believe in the imminent collapse of capitalism and did not regard the bourgeoisie as an idle class that persecuted lower classes. He thought that the concentration of industry had not occurred fully everywhere or as quickly as Marx predicted. He was opposed to the idea of struggle between classes and nations. He thought that the establishment of a parliamentary republic would open the way to uninterrupted social and economic development.

D. Kogen, Die Kulturanschauung des Sozialismus, B 1903; R. Schay, Juden in der deutschen Politik, B 1929; P. Kampffmeyer, Eduard B. und der sozialistische Aufbau, B 1930; H. Hirsch, Der Fabier Eduard B.: zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des revolutionären Sozialismus, B 1977; T. Schelz-Brandenbrug, Eduard B. und Karl Kautsky: Entstehung und Wandlung des sozialdemokratischen Parteimarxismus im Spiegel ihrer Korrespondez, 1879 bis 1932, Kö 1992; F. L. Carsten, Eduard B., 1830–1932: eine politische Biographie, Mn 1993; M. Steger, The Quest for Evolutionary Socialism: Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy, C 1997.

Paweł P. Furdzik

<--Go back