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