Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Harrison: Socialism and Bernstein.

So far, most of the material I’ve employed to discuss Eduard Bernstein’s Preconditions of Socialism did not come from his supporters. Bernstein’s own memoirs of exile proved to be of little help: it only contains the most superficial account of his 1880 meeting with Engels and Marx.

Although August Bebel got him the Die Sozialdemokrat editorship, Bebel was a “mainstream Marxist”, therefore not to be trusted. Moreover, Bebel’s own autobiography was of little help to raise one’s estimation of Bernstein.

Joseph Schumpeter, while sympathetic to Bernstein as a person, attempted to be objective, because of that he wasn’t of much help to promote Bernstein’s case.

Rosa Luxemburg was most definitely a hostile observer.

Henry Tudor was very helpful to judge Bernstein’s work: that didn’t promote Bernstein’s case. Sidney Hook, like Tudor, wasn’t Bernstein’s contemporary. He was all praises, but unlike Tudor, added little in the way of facts.

It was hard, but I finally managed to find one of Bernstein’s contemporaries who was openly supportive. After all, the liberal/leftish intelligentsia demand balance, yes? The same goodwill, intelligence and cooperation they give to others.

Austin F. Harrison is that supporter. A relatively obscure British journalist and editor, beyond his open anti-Marxism, his political stance is hard to ascertain. As a journalist, he worked for apparently high-brow liberal publications until he eventually became editor and publisher of The English Review where he drifted towards conservatism and a lower-brow kind of journalism.

In the 1902 article “Socialism and Bernstein” (Fortnightly Review. Vol. LXXI) Harrison gives his understanding of the Revisionist Debates and Bernstein’s argument. As a bonus, he sheds some light on the second Revisionist Debate. He forgot to mention, though, that by 1902-3 Bernstein wanted the position of vice-president of the Reichstag, against the SPD official policy. Oops.

Some highlights from that article. About Preconditions:
“His criticism was purely negative; his language—and probably intentionally so— obscure; his argument a labyrinth of antitheses, discussions, digressions. There was nothing absolutely unsocialistic in the work; but the tendency was unmistakable. It was as if the author, plunged in doctrinal quicksand, were struggling for firm ground which, when he thought to grasp it as suddenly receded. There was a mercurial element in his criticism.”
Tudor refers that Bernstein denied what was obvious to his continental critics: “that his ‘Revisionism’ was due to his having come to see the world ‘through English spectacles'.” (p. xviii). That was obvious, too, to Bernstein's English supporter:
“From his long enforced residence in England, Bernstein has unquestionably been influenced by the English school of thought.”
About Bernstein’s criticism of Marx’s law of value:
“Bernstein attacked the ‘surplus-value’ theory— though he admitted that its basis was, in the main, correct, even if the theory were in itself untenable”. (!?)
About Bernstein’s own determinism:
“Socialism, then, is not a purely economic, a historical necessity; it is a moral, an ethical necessity. This is the quintessence of Bernstein’s criticism.”
Marxists won’t find that article a pleasant read. They should consider it a mandatory reading, nonetheless. To Harrison’s unusually candid malevolence, that may surprise Marxists (although they should already be accustomed), and to Bernstein’s deliberate, shameless opportunism and careerism, one should add Bebel’s willingness to surrender, his readiness to humiliate himself and, what’s worse, the working class.

If one had to apportion responsibility for that tragic fiasco, Bebel would have to share it.

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