Friday, 20 July 2018

The Preconditions of Socialism: a Critical Review (and xi)

“Looks like she didn't have nobody to help her. I felt right sorry for her. She seemed...” Tom Robinson

In spite of the absolute lack of evidence against him, in spite of the best efforts of his defence attorney, Tom Robinson was found guilty. Those words sealed his fate. He was innocent of the crime he had been charged with, but he had to be convicted of a crime, any crime. The one at hand was that him, a black man, had felt sorry for a white woman.

With this post I conclude my present series on Eduard Bernstein's Preconditions. Those following it have seen me going to great lengths to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that Bernstein not only failed to prove his case against Marxism, but that, indeed, Marxism survived the test and found its main claims confirmed. There’s no need to repeat that.

I’ve also given ample evidence that Bernstein was as dishonest in his criticism as personally ambitious and hostile in his aim. The previous series focused on Bernstein, the man, presents additional proof. His self-assurance was only matched by his recklessness and incompetence.

All of Bernstein’s hand-waving, all his of “data”, were just a cover for this:
“Are we to accept a deterioration of the worker which is only a deterioration relative to the rise in the general level of culture? I am not inclined to do so, and neither, probably, is Cunow.” (p. 168, E3§d)
The similarity between Preconditions and a fraudulent criminal trial has been established. It’s my turn to ask for a verdict: Bernstein is guilty.


That happened long ago. In spite of recent attempts to resurrect Eduard Bernstein or Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, why should socialists and workers care about that today?

Personally, I believe there are many reasons.

I could begin with historical truth. Bernstein was a careerist and a mediocre one at that. Die Voraussetzungen was what one would have expected from such an author. In our times of “alternative facts”, those are absolute facts that need to be upheld.

Considerations of justice are harder in this case. The oblivion into which Bernstein had fallen was undeserved. Opprobrium, not oblivion, is what he earned. That is extensive to those attempting to lift him from his grave.

That story is no antiquarian concern, nor can one dismiss those as “moral” reasons.


If Piketty is right, the fall in the curves above was not attributable to Bernsteinian “social democracy” (including in it Keynesian macroeconomic management policies, welfare state, and “progressivism”), but to war and depression. “Social democratic” potions and incantations didn’t do the trick then, there’s no reason to believe they’ll do it now.

At any event, for decades those curves fell. Social democracy fell with them: from a more or less Marxist revolutionary working class movement into Bernsteinian gradualist, reformist, “parliamentarian come what may”, class collaborationist, petty bourgeois “social democracy”; from there to the identitarian New Left and its “new social movements”, and finally to Third Way/Neue Mitte “social democracy”.

Decade after decade of defeats, decade after decade of doubling down on its betrayal of the working class in pursuit of a new “secret formula”. Decade after decade of “utopias”:
  1. Lord Keynes, who despised the working class, would deliver salvation to the working class in the shape of 15-hour workweeks … after 100 years; 
  2. horny male students, singing Kumbaya My Lord and smoking weed, would make the revolution by not taking showers and having free access to the girls’ dormitories;
  3. Nirvana meant living in a mortgaged suburban McMansion.
In other words, born unprincipled, Bernsteinian “social democracy” has since its birth attempted to pull principles, utopias, goals, out of its hat (say hi to “Darwinian lefty” Peter Singer).

For the first time since the 1910s, those curves have been lifting. Slowly and tentatively (and considering Piketty’s inclusion of owner-occupier housing as “capital”, maybe deceptively slowly), but for the first time since the 1910s they have been lifting.

Will that come to an end? Maybe. But in Capital Piketty didn’t seem to think so. Me, I think he might be right.

I also doubt “social democracy” will ever, of its own accord, go back to what Marx and Engels had envisaged by late 19th century.

“Social democracy” is dead and socialists and workers shouldn’t regret its passing. It may be too early to add “Long live Social Democracy” and we may be running out of time, but hope springs eternal. If the degeneration of social democracy ran parallel to the first half of the inequality U, maybe a re-birth of the socialist movement may run parallel to the second half.

If a second time comes, let’s try to avoid those mistakes. That’s my ambition with this series.

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