Friday, 4 May 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (ii)

“The importance of a work, however, cannot be judged solely on an absolute plane; one should also take into account its influence and its political function.” (Zeev Sternhell et al, The Birth of Fascist Ideology)

Below, side by side, are the tables of contents of Evolutionary Socialism (first Schocken Books paperback edition 1961, fourth printing 1967) and The Preconditions of Socialism (Cambridge University Press, 1993, reprinted 2004)

(right-click to open a larger version in a separate browser tab)

That of Evolutionary corresponds exactly to the version hosted by the Marxists Internet Archive. As reflected above, both tables show only what Bernstein wrote.

Different wordings are visible: for example, “The basic tenets of Marxist socialism” in Preconditions becomes “The fundamental doctrines of Marxist socialism” in Evolutionary: two different translators, two slightly different translations. Nothing deeper than that.

Additionally, this comparison shows that parts of Preconditions were excluded in Evolutionary. The entire Chapter 2 (“Marxism and the Hegelian dialectic”, in red above) was left out. Why? Should readers understand that as a partial retraction or just an accidental omission? To explain differences between editions is one of the reasons prefaces are added. Bernstein's preface to the English edition, however, never mentioned it, let alone acknowledged any retraction, so readers are left to guess.

At any event, because of that the following chapters had to be renumbered.

My intention is to adhere strictly to Bernstein’s content, and, given that my focus is on his empirical claims, my interest is on P3 and E2 (i.e. chapters 3 of Preconditions and 2 of Evolutionary, in the shortened notation). Unfortunately, as it’ll be evident soon, I had to widen that scope considerably.

There’s, however, another problem: the content tables don’t reflect all the changes in those two editions. Other than Chapter 2, more text and footnotes appearing in Preconditions are missing in Evolutionary; data changed between editions. A particularly interesting deletion occurs in P3§b (E2§b): two full paragraphs appearing in Preconditions (pp. 57-8) were deleted and do not appear in Evolutionary. We'll have opportunity to go through that later.

Because of that I decided to compare both editions.

Moreover, those tables don’t show the contributions of others to the final product. The table of Preconditions, for instance, doesn’t show Henry Tudor’s material (chiefly, Editor's note, Introduction, Principal events in Bernstein's life). Likewise, that of Evolutionary doesn’t show Sidney Hook’s 1963 13-page Introduction.

It's important to acknowledge those contributions. I've written about Tudor's elsewhere.

Hook, of course, doesn’t deal with that in his Introduction but his mere presence as contributor to Evolutionary reminded me of something I had neglected: those tables of content don’t show their books in their historical context either. Following Sternhell, it would be misleading to judge Bernstein’s work independently of its influence and political function, too.

We have already discussed the role Preconditions played in the history of German social democracy. An all-too brief similar reminder about Evolutionary is in order, then.

Encouraged by CIA patronage, since the late 1940s a number of petty bourgeois intellectuals went out of their way (and out of their depth) in a life-and-death struggle to save the world for freedom and democracy.

Sidney Hook was one of those intellectuals. Formerly a “mainstream Marxist”, Hook completed his turn to Bernsteinian social democracy just in time for McCarthyism, with his 1953 book Heresy, Yes -- Conspiracy, No.

Unable or unwilling to join their brothers in arms fighting against local insurgencies in the jungles of Third World nations, those intellectuals joined the ranks of Americans for Intellectual Freedom, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. Freedom fighters with the pen as their only weapon: as they say, it is mightier than the sword (it certainly is a lot lighter and the pay is much better).

Even without explicitly invoking Bernstein’s name, that all sounds pretty Bernsteinian, yes?

The invocation would become explicit a little later, during those long-ago years of the early 1960s. When Evolutionary first rose from its grave in 1961, the world was in the middle of the Cold War. In October the following year the War came dangerously close to get Thermonuclear-Hot.

That’s when Hook re-discovered Evolutionary. In 1963, merely months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, he wrote his Introduction.

In the next installment we’ll go through a last preliminary, before the business of the review starts.

“The worst snobs are not the masters but the direct servants of the powerful. George Will and David Brooks have the arrogance not of rulers but of their attendants. Their anger is directed mostly at those who refuse to serve.” (Here)
In the lead to Karl Marx's 200th anniversary a number of professors have expressed their learned opinions about him. What can a humble worker add to that other than Marx, whatever else he did or achieved, proudly refused to serve?

And, yet, that particular old spectre keeps haunting the world. Happy birthday.

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