Friday, 23 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: Bernstein and the International.

In the previous posts of this series we've been commenting on a series of claims for the resurrection of Eduard Bernstein as anti-Marx champion for the left.

This is the third such claim. As payment for his selfless efforts to update Marxism, Matt says, poor Bernie was almost/fully “drummed out of the International”.

Is that right?

The short answer:
This one is doubly wrong, which in itself is a record: two howlers within a five-word phrase. Both the what and the where are wrong.

The where: International Working Men’s Association was not a big international party (just to be on the safe side, I probably should add that it wasn’t a shadowy, sinister conspiracy like the mythical Elders of Zion, either). It was founded by working men’s societies (trade unions, clubs, cooperatives, and such) and such societies could join it, leave it or be expelled from it.

During the 1890s there were many “mainstream Marxists” mad at Bernstein (less, however, than you’d imagine). They would have been a whole lot madder if they knew his story in detail, but they didn't. Some of them did demand Bernstein’s expulsion, but not from the International: from the SPD.

(By now, even readers sympathetic to Matt must be starting to see a pattern of sloppiness emerging: Marx = Engels, the International = SPD, dates don’t matter.)

The long answer:
What actually happened and why it happened, however, are more instructive.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Dissecting Bernstein: Bernstein in the 1910s.

Last week we examined one of Matt's claims for the resurrection of Eduard Bernstein. Today we'll consider another one. In Matt's gospel, Bernstein had been a Pharisee. He, however, had an epiphany and converted Reformism. According to Matt, Bernstein heard the words "Eduard, Eduard, why persecutest thou me" as early as the "1910's".

Is Matt right?

The short answer:
It's a good legend, one that Bernstein himself may have contributed to create. The problem is that all evidence seems to contradict it. Bernstein is not a trustworthy source.

Let's proceed by steps. By now, careful readers -- even if they didn’t read Preconditions -- know that "as early as the 1910's" is another howler: Voraussetzungen was published in 1899. By this measure, you are over 11 years late, Matt.

Like in the literary executor thing, however, there's more beyond that. Unlike in the literary executor thing, Matt's latest brain fart has far deeper consequences.

Nowhere in Preconditions Bernstein mentions it (neither does Tudor), but in September 17-18, 1879 Marx and Engels wrote precisely about Bernstein’s reformism. They were seriously pissed off, too, to the point of threatening to publicly denounce the SPD, then underground. Yup, believe it or not.

By this second measure, you are late by some thirty years, Matt. Yes: 30.

Bernstein's omission is tantamount to a lie. As Engels' literary executor he was responsible for curating the latter's papers. He otherwise quoted them liberally when it suited his purposes, yet, that letter's text was only made public in its German original in 1931 (a "mainstream Marxist" initiative) and in its full English translation in 1984, with MECW vol. 24 (pp. 253-269).

There's more. MECW vol. 45 (published in 1991) shows a paper trail starting at least the previous June. In it both Engels and Marx detail their increasingly harsh opinion of Bernstein. At least August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Nikolai Danielson, Friedrich Adolph Sorge, Johann Philip Becker and … Eduard Bernstein himself had been privy to that.

That material is copyrighted, but here is the partial text of Marx's September 19 letter to Sorge in Hoboken. "The Leipzigers" are August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, among others. "Their Zürich allies" (variously referred to elsewhere as the "Zürich trio" or simply as "Zürichers") are Bernstein, his master Karl Höchberg, and one Karl August Schramm.

The sobering thing is that that lie may not be the most egregious in Bernstein's case.

The longer answer:
The short answer is not satisfactory, though. There’s heaps left out.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018