Eduard Bernstein
Evolutionary Socialism

Trans. by E.C. Harvey
(London: Independent Labour Party, 1909)

Hanover Historical Texts Project

It has been maintained in a certain quarter that the practical deductions from my treatises would be the abandonment of the conquest of political power by the proletariat organized politically and economically. That is quite an arbitrary deduction.

I set myself against the notion that we have to expect shortly a collapse of the bourgeois economy, and that social democracy should be induced by the prospect of such an imminent, great, social catastrophe to adapt its tactics to that assumption. That I maintain most emphatically.

The adherents of this theory of a catastrophe, base it especially on the conclusions of the Communist Manifesto. This is a mistake in every respect.

The theory which the Communist Manifesto sets forth of the evolution of modern society was correct as far as it characterized the general tendencies of that evolution. But it was mistaken in several special deductions, above all in the estimate of the time the evolution would take. . . .

Social conditions have not developed to such an acute opposition of things and classes as is depicted in the Manifesto. It is not only useless, it is the greatest folly to attempt to conceal this from ourselves. The number of members of the possessing classes is to-day not small but larger. The enormous increase of social wealth is not accompanied by a decreasing number of large capitalists but by an increasing number of capitalists of all degrees. The middle classes change their character but they do not disappear from the social scale. . . .

In all advanced countries we see the privileges of the capitalist bourgeoisie yielding step by step to democratic organisations. Under the influence of this, and driven by the movement of the working classes which is daily becoming stronger, a social reaction has set in against the exploiting tendencies of capital, a counter-action which, although it still proceeds timidly and feebly, yet does exist,and is always drawing more departments of economic life under its influence. Factory legislation, the democratising of local government, and the extension of it area of work, the freeing of trade unions and systems of co-operative trading from legal restrictions, the considerations of standard conditions of labour in the work undertaken by public authorities--all these characterise this phase of the evolution. . . .

No one has questioned the necessity for the working classes to gain the control of government. The point at issue is between the theory of a social cataclysm and the question whether, with the given social development in Germany and the present advanced state of its working classes in the towns and country, a sudden catastrophe would be desirable in the interest of social democracy. I have denied it and deny it again, because in my judgment a greater security for lasting success lies in a steady advance than in the possibilities offered by a catastrophic crash.

And as I am firmly convinced that important periods in the development of nations cannot be leapt over I lay the greatest value on the next tasks of social democracy, on the struggle for the political rights of the workingman, on the political activity of working men in town and country for the interests of their class, as well as on the work of the industrial organisation of the workers.

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