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EDUARD BERNSTEIN

EDUARD BERNSTEIN was a German Social Democratic propagandist and political theorist.

Background

  • Eduard Bernstein was born in 1850 in Berlin, Germany, one of fifteen children of a railroad engineer.

  • Career

    • Bernstein first worked as a junior employee of the S. & L. Rothschild Bank in Berlin.

      Bernstein left Germany following the enactment of Bismarck’s antisocialist laws and made his base in Switzerland, where he became editor in 1881 of Per Sozialdemokrat, which was the official organ of the underground exiled Socialist party (SPD). The paper was published in Zurich and smuggled into Germany.

      At the request of Bismarck, Bernstein was expelled from Switzerland in 1888. He moved to London where he continued the publication of the periodical until 1890. In this period he was much influenced by the Fabian Society in England which advocated a gradualist development of socialism. Here he published his main work, Evolutionary Socialism (1899; English translation, 1909).

      In 1901 Bernstein returned to Germany to become the theoretician of the revisionist school of the reformist labor movement.

      In 1902, Bernstein was elected a member of the Reichstag, sitting until 1906 and again from 1912 to 1918. During World War I he sided with the Independent Socialists protesting against war and militarism. From 1920 to 1928 he sat in Parliament as a Social Democrat.

      Bernstein was worried about the growth in anti-Semitism in Germany even before his return in 1901.

      He became alarmed by Hitlerism and the rise of the right-wing National Socialist party but was powerless to prevent its advance. He died in 1932 six weeks before Hitler’s accession to power. His memoirs, My Years of Exile, appeared in 1921.

    Works

    • My Years of Exile: Reminiscences of a Socialist
      1921
    • Eduard Bernstein (January 6, 1850 – December 18, 1932) was a German social democratic theoretician and politician, a member of the SPD, and the founder of evolutionary socialism and revisionism.

    Politics

    He was moved politically toward social democracy by the events of the time, particularly the economic crisis of the early 1870s, which reinforced his belief in the fragility of capitalism, and the speeches of German radical and socialist leaders following the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. In 1872 he joined the Marxist wing of the labor movement.

    Bernstein formulated the basis of a democratic socialism that suited the changing conditions of capitalist society. He was the first German socialist to challenge the fundamental economic assumptions on which Marx’s model of revolution was based, and he questioned the concentration on the final goal of socialism at the expense of the means and the method by which it was achieved.

    He rejected Marx’s theory of an imminent collapse of capitalist society, pointing out that the middle class was not declining, the peasants were not sinking, crises were not growing larger, and mass misery was not increasing. He argued that the prospects for lasting success lay in steady advancement rather than mass upheaval.

    Party affiliation: Social Democratic Party

    Religion

    Although not a practicing Jew, Bernstein felt growing concern for the fate of Jews, who were persecuted. Many Zionists, for example Zalman Shazar and Chaim Weizmann tried converting Bernstein to Zionism, which he opposed before World War I. He modified his views to support the concept of national autonomy for Jews in individual European countries and thought Jewish nationalism reconcilable with modern demo¬cratic ideas of self-determination. In his last years he became more supportive of Zionism.

    References

    • Revolutionary Jews from Marx to Trotsky
      1976
    • What role did individual Jews play in the European socialist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries and why did some of them become such important cataysts of social change? Did their active particiaption in revolutionary socialism have something to do with their Jewish origins and heritage? What attitude did they adopt, as socialists and as Jews, to the growth of anti-Semitism and the emergence of Zionism in various European societies? This book, the first in any langauge to deal systematically with this complex and emotionally charged subject, provides some fascinating answers to these controversial questions.

    EDUARD BERNSTEIN
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    Born January 6, 1850
    Died December 18, 1931
    (aged 81)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1902 - 1906
      Reichstag
      Berlin, Germany
    • 1912 - 1918
      Reichstag
      Berlin, Germany
    • 1920 - 1928
      Social Democrat, Parliament
      Berlin, Germany