“The socialist who wasn't”,
a review by MARK GARNETT
Eduard Bernstein,

[SAC editor has excerpted and summarized sections of the review most pertinent to our course and
has inserted a few hypertext links to SAC]

Although he was a hard-working polemical journalist, Bernstein's status within the international Socialist movement owed much to his appointment in 1895 as the joint literary executor of Friedrich Engels [ID].

Up to that date he had been regarded as an orthodox Marxist; before long, many Social Democratic Party members were wishing that Engels had chosen someone else for the job. Bernstein had reached the conclusion that Marx had been wrong in important respects, and awarded himself the task of bringing the doctrine up to date. For those who believed that Marx was infallible, this news was rather unsettling, and a major theoretical argument ensued.

Bernstein was attacked in the party journals and denounced in his absence at the Stuttgart Conference. The Preconditions of Socialism was his long-meditated reply to the critics.

Bernstein's "revisionism" was based on statistical evidence which indicated that = 

[1] capitalism was not hurtling to the final crisis predicted by Marx
[2] the working class was improving its material position, which contradicted Marx's predictions
[3] civil rights were improving
[4] electoral franchise was being extended 

Orthodox believers were disturbed by these findings, but Bernstein was convinced that =

[5] they pointed towards a peaceful victory for the proletariat. Despite the repressive policy of Bismarck, the Social Democratic Party attracted strong support at the polls
[6] Bernstein rejected the idea that democracy was a clever capitalist plot to hoodwink the workers
[7] Instead, he believed that it was a true precondition of socialism.

Bernstein claimed that he never ceased to be a Marxist, and a few quotations from Marx and Engels supported his view. 

Yet he did not hesitate to point out where the great men had erred =

[1] They allowed the dialectical method to dictate their most important conclusions: their approach had been "scientific" to a point, but they had spurned evidence which might have upset their preconceived ideas
[2] In their impatience to see capitalism destroyed, they had exaggerated both the solidarity of workers and their immediate capacity to rule. These were faults which needed rectifying.

Despite some unconvincing protestations of modesty, Bernstein was clearly convinced that he had significantly improved on Marx. He was wrong; his book only proved that he had been converted to liberalism

Having fallen under the influence of Kant, Bernstein was prepared to acknowledge that =

[1] socialism was the "legitimate heir" of liberalism
[2] but there is nothing in his book to help us distinguish the heir from the parent 

Bernstein emphasized two points more characteristic of contemporary liberals such as T. H. Green than of Marx =

[1] economic self-reliance
[2] defense of civil liberty and "the development and protection of the free individual"

[But does the reviewer ignore the fact that the liberalism of T.H. Green and his followers [ID] had (1) taken giant steps away from the earlier radical laissez faire tradition within liberalism, (2) made efforts to reach out to the growing mass of wage-laborers, and (3) integrate a large dose of communitarianism and welfare into their liberal political outlook? The reviewer says that Bernstein had been converted to liberalism, but at the same time liberalism, to some degree, was being converted to socialism. European politics in general now drifted in very social-democratic directions.]

His praise of democracy as an end in itself simply ignores Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion that voting by itself could change nothing of importance. [Is this so? Cf. Rosa Luxemburg's 1904 essay (ID).]

Adolf Hitler would have taught him that the right to vote was not an assured road to paradise [?! reviewer just skips over what everyone was taught about this "road to paradise" by the two decades that preceded Hitler -- WW1 (1914-1918) and the collapse of the capitalist market system (1919-1933)]

Bernstein accused his critics of "Utopianism" [ID] (a fearful reproach when uttered by Marxists)