||A lecture delivered by Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), a German social democratic theoretician and politician, member of the SPD, and founder of evolutionary socialism or reformism.
Bernstein was born in Berlin on January 6, 1850. His political career began in 1872, when he became a member of the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, the so called Eisenachers (named after the German town Eisenach). Together with August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht he prepared the Einigungsparteitag ("unification party congress") with Lassalle's Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein in Gotha in 1875.
From 1878 on, Bernstein was the private secretary of social democratic patron Karl Höchberg, working in Zürich; 1888, he was expelled from Switzerland due to pressure from Prussia and moved to London, where he had close contacts to Friedrich Engels.
Between 1880 and 1890, Bernstein published the magazine "Sozialdemokrat" ("Social Democrat"); in 1891, he was one of the authors of the Erfurt Program, and from 1896 to 1898, he released a series of articles entitled "Probleme des Sozialismus" ("Problems of Socialism") that led to the revisionism debate in the SPD. He also wrote a book titled "Die Vorraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie" ("The Prerequisites for Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy") in 1899. The book was in sharp contrast to the positions of August Bebel, Karl Kautsky and Wilhelm Liebknecht. Rosa Luxemburg's 1900 essay Reform or Revolution? was also a polemic against Bernstein's position.
In 1901, he returned to Germany, following the lifting of a ban that had kept him from entering the country, and became a member of the Reichstag from 1902 to 1918. He voted against the armament tabling in 1913, together with the SPD fraction's left wing. From July 1915 he has opposed the World War 1 and in 1917 he was among the founders of the the USPD. He was a member of the USDP until 1919, when he rejoined the SPD. From 1920 to 1928 Bernstein is again member of the Reichstag. He has retired from the political life in 1928.
Bernstein died on December 18, 1932 in Berlin; a commemorative plaque is placed in his memory at Bozener Straße 18, Berlin-Schöneberg, where he lived from 1918 to his death.
Die Vorraussetzungen was Bernstein's most significant work and was principally concerned with refuting Marx's predictions about the imminent demise of capitalism. In it, Bernstein pointed out simple facts that he took to be evidence that Marx's predictions were not being borne out: he noted that the centralisation of capitalist industry, while significant, was not becoming wholescale and that the ownership of capital was becoming more, and not less, diffuse. He also pointed out some of the flaws in Marx's labour theory of value.
In its totality, Bernstein's analysis formed a devastating critique of Marxism, and this led to his vilification among many orthodox Marxists. Bernstein remained, however, very much a socialist, albeit an unorthodox one (he was hostile to Trade Unions and Producers Co-operatives); he believed that socialism would be achieved through capitalism, not through capitalism's destruction (as rights were gradually won by workers, their cause for grievance would be diminished, and consequently, so too would the foundation of revolution). Although Marx would argue that free trade would be the quickest fulfillment of the capitalist system, and thus its end, Bernstein viewed protectionism as helping only a selective few, being fortschrittsfeindlich (anti-progressive), for its negative effects on the masses. German's protectionism, Bernstein argued, was only based on political expediency, isolating Germany from the world (especially from Britain), creating an autarky that would only result in conflict between Germany and the rest of the world.