Friday, 9 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: Was Bernstein Marx's Literary Executor?

According to Matt, Bernstein was one of Marx's literary executors. Is Matt right?

The short answer:

Wrong beard, Matt (Freudian slip?). Bernstein was one of Engels’ literary executors. Marx’s literary executor was … drum rolls, please … Engels!

I can, however, be generous to Matt. So, to save time, I'll put it plainly: that's just a brain fart, embarrassing, but by itself it doesn't demolish the whole of his argument. It does say something, however, of his and Bernstein's credibility.

I can afford generosity, because what's telling is how I learned the right answer. Rather funny, actually.

The longer answer:
To learn that Bernstein was one of Engels' literary executors (which I didn't know, to be honest) I did the unexpected, what workers are supposedly unable to do. I actually followed one of Matt's reading recommendations: I read Preconditions entirely.

First things first. Unless both Google Books and the Library of Congress online catalog are badly mistaken, there's only one English translation of Bernstein's 1899 Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie entitled The Preconditions of Socialism (there's another, earlier translation, entitled Evolutionary Socialism, published in 1907).

Published in 1993 by Cambridge University Press as part of the series “Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought”, Preconditions (ISBN: 0521391210, hardback; and 9780521391214) was edited by Henry Tudor.

With that established, I can say that Tudor contributed substantially to that volume: 49 of the 270 pages in Preconditions. He did his homework, too. Whatever you think of Preconditions, Tudor's work deserves praise. I’ll borrow Matt’s words: “Really very good and very unjustly ignored”. Particularly his Introduction, which provides “excellent discussion of this”, including the making of Preconditions:
“Starting in 1896, the year after Engels died, Bernstein developed these views, partly in a series of articles published in Die Neue Zeit under the tide ‘Problems of Socialism’ and partly in an extended polemical exchange with the English socialist, Ernest Belfort Bax.” (p. xxi).
Note the years.

A “very unjustly ignored” part of Tudor’s contribution is the timeline of Bernstein’s life. One of the events listed (p. xxxvii): “1895 Engels dies. Bernstein, with Bebel, named as literary executor.”  (See also footnote 12, page 7).

Clear as a day … to any who’s read the “really very good and very unjustly ignored” Preconditions.


Assuming Matt actually read it (he’s an educated critic and faithful interpreter of socialism’s spirit, yes?), he didn’t pay much attention to details. “Unjustly ignored” book, indeed.

That brain fart is not an isolated thing. In this series I'll document  a pattern of undiluted sloppiness characterising his two short comments (217 words altogether).


Bernstein's out of copyright Evolutionary Socialism (the older version of Preconditions) is freely available online. The Marxists Internet Archive has it (credits due to Edith C. Harvey, Ted Crawford, and Einde O’Callaghan). I haven't checked carefully, but it seems quite like Preconditions. Tudor explains the differences between them.

By themselves, I think those differences don’t justify buying Preconditions. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it.

I was serious when I praised Tudor's contribution. If you are a Marxist tired of pseudo-intellectual bullying and can afford the expense, his material, specially his Introduction, is worth it. You must read it with as much care as the care Tudor himself put in his work. I did and this series is deeply indebted to his insights.

Let’s talk now about one of those evidently absurd notions “mainstream Marxists” stubbornly entertain against their betters’ debunking: Marxists believe that debates -- the good ones, at any rate -- generally involve more than one party. Imagine that!

Matt’s one-sided account notwithstanding they further believe they actually replied to Bernstein. They call that the Revisionist Debates.

Delusional? Judge by yourself. Matt ignored it (justly, no doubt), but Tudor included a short list of “Bernstein’s critics” (p. xl).

Bernstein considered Rosa Luxemburg one of his ablest critics (p. xxxi and p. 200) and Tudor briefly contrasted their arguments. Further, it’s easy to get her 1900 Reform or Revolution. MIA also offers it (credits due to Integer and A. Lehrer) for free. If one were to keep things simple and picked just one champion for the “mainstream Marxist” side, she seems like a good choice.

So, MIA offers both sides of the debate. Talk about absurd “mainstream Marxist” notions, eh Matt?


I’m done with Claim 1. Time to move on to something meatier: Bernstein in the 1910s.

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