The Quest for Evolutionary Socialism
Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy

Author: Manfred B. Steger
Cambridge University Press, 1997

Eduard Bernstein was a German Jew devoted to the labor movement and to Marxism. Born in 1850, he became the "father of revisionism," living until 1932. This book is about the labor and socialist movements in Germany, about Marxism and with descriptions of Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg was a heroine for the New Left in the 1960s because she had been a revolutionary critical of Lenin's revolution.  Steger's descriptions of Luxemburg give the impression that she was both brilliant and deluded.

Steger writes of the belief by Marx and Engels that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction, a destruction that led to a new socialist order. While in Britain, Bernstein appears to have been influenced by the Fabian socialists – namely the Webbs, Sidney and Beatrice. Bernstein was keeping abreast of ideas being tossed around by socialists of various stripes while carrying on a defense of the views of Marx and Engels. Then, in the early 1890s, he gave up on Marx's theory of capitalism's breakdown.  He noted that Marx was trying to be scientific but that Marx's prediction of the future was not science. Bernstein observed that, in Germany as well as in England, industrialization bred reforms and that rather than capitalism suddenly collapsing it would gradually become more socialistic. Marx had died in 1883, but his collaborator, Engels, took issue with Bernstein.  So did Lenin. Bernstein joined what was to be the mainstream thinking of the Social Democrat movement in Europe – except that he remained opposed to Germany's war effort during World War I.

Rosa Luxemburg was a fiery orator with a doctorate degree in Political Economy from the University of Berlin. She called Bernstein an "opportunistic philistine" and accused him of ignoring, in Steger's words, "the dialectical processes of historical becoming."  She wished to purge his "bourgeois revisionism" from the German Socialist Party (SPD) to which she and Bernstein belonged. In vain she called for Bernstein's expulsion from the SPD. Luxemburg was a part of the ill-fated Communist rising in Berlin in 1919 that ended with her murder.