Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bernstein vs. Luxemburg

Between Bernstein and Luxemburg, it’s hard to say who’s right or wrong. In history, some modern social democratic countries followed Bernstein’s ideas, while some Communist countries, such as Soviet Union and China, went on to revolution, which resulted in the death of Communism in Russia and dramatic reform within Communism in China. If given another chance, I wish China could adopt Bernstein’s way, not criticizing him as Revisionist. Bernstein himself said that “which concerns me… is, by opposing what is left of the utopian mode of thought in the socialist theory, to strengthen equally the realistic and the idealistic element in the socialist movement.” His balance between extreme ideals and pragmatic approach to society might be a better solution.

Bernstein was not a traditional or stereotyped Marxist; his ideas were rather practical than revolutionary. He argued that “social democracy would flourish far better by lawful than unlawful means and by violent revolution,” which makes him look like a conservatism. Maybe that’s why other Marxist like Luxemburg criticized him as Revisionist. But no matter how we label a thinker, she or he should think how an idea could function in a society first, not only in accordance with certain ideologies. Suppose if Marx and Engels could make a choice: who is more Marxist, Bernstein or Luxemburg?

Just as Luxemburg pointed out, Bernstein thought his ideas “to be in agreement with certain declarations of Marx and Engels.” In his article, he even quoted from Marx and Engels, such as “the working classes cannot simply take possession of the ready-made State machine and set it in motion for their own aims” when analyzing the Paris Commune, and he also used Engels to say “the next task of the party should be ‘to work for an uninterrupted increase of its votes.’”

On the other hand, Bernstein also provided some critique to Marxism, apart from his overall agreement. He wrote “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.” The book is written in 1899, but if he waited till the October Revolution in the Soviet Union, he would change it to the time and space the evolution would take, as Soviet Union was by no means an advanced capitalist nation. What’s more, Luxemburg thought “what Bernstein questions is not the rapidity of the development of capitalist society, but the march of the development itself and, consequently, the very possibility of a change to socialism.” This evaluation sounded more severe, like he's attacking socialism.

Then the question focused on what’s the correct march of capitalism and socialism, and whether there would be a catastrophic crisis before capitalism transformed into socialism. According to Bernstein, in capitalist countries, “the more the political organizations of modern nations are democratized the more the needs and opportunities of great political catastrophes are diminished.” This tendency and prediction scared other Marxists, as Luxemburg worried that “capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, then socialism ceases to be objectively necessary.” Ironically, history first favored revolutionaries in some countries yet ended in Communist catastrophes, so history ultimately happened in the way Luxemburg didn’t want to be, in which capitalism “maintain itself by suppressing its own contradictions.”

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