After reading this article you will learn about Revisionism:- 1. Definition and Nature of Revisionism 2. Origin of Revisionism 3. Bernstein’s Criticisms 4. Evaluation of Bernstein’s Revisionism.
Definition and Nature of Revisionism:
The term revisionism is used in a pejorative sense. People use the word revisionism to deprecate some ideas, ideology and concept. The German synonym of this word is durchsehen.
It is to be noted here that to revise or review something is not bad or condemnable at all. But in the Marxian literature it carries a special connotation. The Marxists use the term revisionism or revisionists to condemn those who have deviated from orthodox Marxism.
The term revisionism has a broad meaning. At different time’s different persons or group of persons were nicknamed revisionists. Trotsky, Kautsky, Tito, Carrillo, Lukacs, Korsch and even Mao were called revisionists.
The broadness of the term originated from the variety of interpretations of Marx’s philosophy. Different persons interpreted Marx’s principles in their own ways and that gave rise to variety of opinions sometimes leading to contradictory lines. When the principles, policies, programmes and ideology of some persons were in conflict with those of the official line the former were called revisionists. In narrower sense the opposition to Marxism is revisionism.
Some intellectuals and socialist minded people questioned the economic philosophy and principles of Marx and Engels and expressed their doubt about the practical importance of Marx’s ideas. These people came to be called revisionists.
The interesting point here is that the revisionists did not intend to abandon Marx’s ideas but they questioned the applicability of his principles. However, they agreed with his socialist philosophy.
The revisionists agreed with some of the fundamental principles of Marx and Engels, but disagreed with others. The social, economic and political conditions are changing rapidly and in the background of this change the revisionists strongly felt the need of changing the basic tenets of Marxism.
They felt that attachment to any particular principle would lead to failure. This approach is generally called revisionism.
A recent critic has explained the term in the following words:
“Revisionists were not the people who abandoned Marxism completely or never had been Marxists, but those who sought to modify the traditional doctrine or who held that some of its essential features were no longer applicable in the present state of society… Later the term was also applied to those who attempted to supplement Marxism in Kantian line.”
So any change of or supplement to Marxism held by the official line came to be treated as revisionism. Revisionism is used in both wider and narrower sense. In wider sense it is integral to Marxist theory and practice, “predicated as that must be on a social ontology which has self-creation through labour as the fundamental characteristic of being human”.
But the term is rarely used in wider sense “Marxism became canonised and revisionism gained a narrower, negative and shifting connotation. Before 1914 revisionism became synonymous with those writers and political figures who, while starting from Marxist premises, came by degrees to call in question various elements of the doctrine, especially Marx’s prediction as to the development of capitalism and the inevitability of socialist revolution”.
Herbert Marcuse, in his noted work Reason and Revolution, observes that Marx’s various principles began to undergo changes immediately after his death. So long Engels was alive he resisted this change by offering “authentic” interpretation of Marx’s ideas.
Let us, for the sake of clarity quote Marcuse:
“The history of Marxism has confirmed the affinity between Hegel’s motives and the critical interest of the materialist dialectic as applied to society. The schools of Marxism that abandoned the revolutionary foundations of Marxist theory were the same that outspokenly repudiated the Hegelian aspects of the Marxian theory, especially the dialectic. The revisionist writing and thought, which expressed the growing faith of large socialist groups in a peaceful evolution from capitalism to socialism, attempted to change socialism from a theoretical and practical antithesis to capitalist system into a parliamentary movement within the system”.
In the opinion of orthodox Marxists the change or amendment of original views of Marx is sheer opportunism. Because Marx arrived at certain conclusions after studying history scientifically.
At least the Marxists viewed it in that light. Some of the revisionists termed Marxism as the remnants of utopianism. Revisionism replaced the revolutionary action by faith in natural evolution and reformism. Bernstein called the dialectic as the treacherous element in the Marxian doctrine, the trap that is laid for all consistent thinking.
He declared that the “share” of dialectic consists in its inappropriate abstraction from the specific particularities of things. He defended the matter of fact quality of the fixed and stable objects as against any notion of their dialectical negation.
Bernstein’s revisionism attacks not only certain principles of Marxism but it’s very root. The dialectical method is the centre-stage of Marxian philosophy. In fixed and stable condition, according to revisionism, the state of affairs evolves towards a rational society.
Origin of Revisionism:
It is generally believed by some scholars of Western political thought that Bernstein is the originator of revisionism. This is partially correct. It is true that Bernstein’s interpretation of Marxism gave birth to revisionism in a large scale but its true origin can be traced to the anti-socialist laws that were implemented in the eighties of the nineteenth century.
A good number of socialist thinkers published articles in socialist journals to ventilate their own views. But these writings were not in consonance to the views of Marx and Engels. Revisionism practically originated from this.
It has already been indicated that Hochberg, Bernstein and Schramm published a journal. This journal published the views of the authors which contained ideas about socialism that were not to the true spirit of Marx and Engels.
These surreptitiously revised the original idea of socialism. The “Three Zurichers” berated the Social Democratic Party for being a one-sided workers’ party.
In their journal Bernstein, Hochberg and Schramm made the following suggestions:
(a) They wanted the Social Democrats to cease their attacks on the bourgeoisie,
(b) To open up the party to bourgeois elements,
(c) Bourgeois intellectuals will be allowed to hold party posts in view of the workers’ lack of education,
(d) Marx and Engels along with all Social Democrats must renounce the revolutionary methods and aims,
(e) Finally they must use legal, parliamentary methods and reforms.
These five suggestions constitute the core of Bernstein’s revisionism, Bernstein and two other Zurichers concluded that if these five “principles” are strictly followed socialism will be achieved and there would be no necessity of Marx’s class struggle and armed revolution.
Marx and Engels were highly indignant. Marx said that the three-star constellation were out to denigrate Social-Democrats. The purpose of Bernstein, Hochberg and Schramm was to abandon the revolutionary struggle and to surrender unconditionally to the police regime of Bismarck.
Marx and Engels also vowed at this time that the ulterior motive and revisionism of Bernstein and company must be fought tooth and nail. Marx and Engels issued a “circular letter” criticizing the Right opportunism of three Zurichers.
Marx and Engels wrote in the “circular letter” – “It is the representatives of the petty bourgeoisie who are here making themselves heard, full of anxiety that the proletariat, under the pressure of revolutionary position may go too far.”
Bernstein’s disagreement with Marxists was widening day after day. He made all-out efforts to launch a polemical onslaught against the Marxists and the death of Engels brought for him the opportunity.
In 1897-98 he published few articles under the title “Problems of Socialism and the Task of Social Democracy.” In these articles he attacked the theoretical basis of Marxism. Bernstein proclaimed himself a true socialist and he wanted to prove that his was the true method. He criticized Marx’s concept of matter in the light of Kant’s idealism.
On March 6, 1895, few months before his death, Engels wrote an Introduction for the reprint of the Class struggles in France 1848-50. In this Introduction he made the following polemical observation which is regarded as the potential source of revisionism; “History has proved us wrong. It has made it clear that the state of economic development on the continent at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the elimination of capitalist production; it has proved this by the economic revolution which, since 1848, has seized the whole of the continent, and has caused big industry to take real root in France, Austria, Hungary while it has made Germany positively an industrial country of the first rank.”
“The franchise has been transformed from a means of deception which it was before, into an instrument of emancipation. In election agitation it provided us with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with the mass of the people where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all the parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people. It provided our representatives in the Reichstag with a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in parliament.”
“With the successful utilization of universal suffrage an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation, and this method quickly developed further. It was found that the state institutions…offer the working class still further opportunities to fight these very institutions. The workers took part in elections to particular Diets, to municipal councils and to trades courts; they contested with the bourgeoisie every post in the occupation of which a sufficient part of the proletariat had a say. And so it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than the illegal action of the workers’ party.”
“The conditions of the struggle had essentially changed. Rebellion in the old style, street fighting with barricades, which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848, was to a considerable extent obsolete. A real victory of an insurrection over the military in street fighting, a victory as between two armies, is one of the rarest exceptions. The most that an insurrection can achieve in the way of actual tactical operations is the proper construction and defence of single barricade…Hence passive defence is the prevailing form of fighting; the attack will rise here and there; but only by way of exception, to occasional thrusts and flank assaults.”
Engels further observes that earlier it was thought that a small group of persons with revolutionary zeal could throw a surprise attack and achieve object. The large scale participation of masses was not thought as a part of revolutionary activities. In the Introduction Engels has changed his earlier view.
This Introduction has introduced a new controversy which is whether a revolution requires a few dedicated and well-trained revolutionaries or large scale mass participation. Engels was a practical man and a close observer of political events that were happening in several parts of Europe. He saw that the political incidents that took place during the then last fifty years (1846-1895) clearly revealed that for a successful revolution large scale mass participation was a “must”. General public must be well-acquainted with the important aspects of revolution and its keys to success.
It is not possible for few revolutionaries to achieve success. He also said that there had occurred sea changes in political arena which cannot be dismissed as silly affairs. The leaders of revolution must bring them into active consideration. This clearly indicates the change in view that Engels held earlier and what he held in 1895. This is treated by many as the origin of revisionism.
Slow and intensive propaganda through pamphlets and booklets, mass meeting close contact with the public, to propagate the necessity of revolution and parliamentary tactics are recognized as the immediate task of the party. This general principle is applicable to all countries. Engels has announced that the pressing conditions always require the revision of tactics. The revolutionary situations everywhere are never uniform.
What would be the exact method that depends upon the particular situation, Engels concludes, whatever may happen in other countries German Social Democracy, as the vanguard of international movement, must continue to pursue the above tactics. We have extensively quoted Engels’s view in order to trace the origin of revisionism.
Bernstein’s Criticisms on Revisionism:
Bernstein had criticized Marxian philosophy from several standpoints. These may be arranged under the following points. Bernstein’s first objection is that “Engels had written of a revision of tactics, but in fact this was a revision of strategy, a revision of the premises of theoretical Marxism. The errors denounced by Engels were not merely a result of contingent factors; they derived from essential points of doctrine”.
Bernstein’s another objection is that in Marxian theory, there is no coordination between theory and reality. To make a theory acceptable and useful there must be a unity between the two.
So far as the theory is concerned, Marx is quite right. But the theory has very little connection with practice. In one of his letters Bernstein wrote; “The doctrine (i.e., Marxism) is not sufficiently realistic for me. It has lagged behind the practical development of the movement. It may still be all right for Russia…but in Germany we have outgrown its old form.”
In this observation Bernstein clearly indicated that he had no quarrel with Marx’s theory. He framed conclusions and made predictions on the basis of Marx’s analysis of history based on dialectical materialism. But he observed that the political and economic situation in Germany and several other West European countries differed from what Marx said.
In the third place, the difference between theory and practice is due to the fact that Marxism is mainly out-dated and Utopian. He had said that the tactics and methods of workers’ movement had changed remarkably and naturally Marxian tactics were irrelevant for the prevailing conditions of Germany.
His purpose was to liberate workers’ movement from the encumbrances of old theory and methods. Then the movement would be able to achieve its goals. “The defect of Marxism” says Bernstein “lay in its excessive abstraction and theoretical phraseology.”
This is the greatest defect of his Capital. In spite of scientifically the Capital does not evoke considerable interest because of the excessive abstraction.
Bernstein’s another criticism against Marxism is that it is based on “a priorism”. The proletariat will seize power through revolution or through political catastrophe. This idea or notion, according to Bernstein, is based on an “a priorism”. That means proletariat will or must revolt or the capitalist system must face the inevitable catastrophe. The assumptions are; the society will be polarized between two main classes bourgeois and proletariat, there will emerge the growing immiseration of the proletarians, economic conditions will progressively worsen. Ultimately, the revolution will overthrow the regime.
Bernstein observes that the study of history reveals that the events of society have not proceeded according to the predictions of Marx and his “a priorism”.
If so, Marxism and the predictions of Marx have faced with a very big question mark. But Marx’s predictions constitute the most vital aspect of his theory. Bernstein claimed that he made this observation on the basis of his studies of economy.
Bernstein in support of his view also said that even Engels, his lifelong friend, did not hesitate to admit that the earlier assumption regarding the activities of capitalism had proved false.
Here it is to be noted that the economic situation of many countries of Europe had undergone rapid changes after the death of Marx in 1883 and Engels curiously and seriously observed those changes.
Evaluation of Bernstein’s Revisionism:
Although Bernstein rejected Marx’s “historical tendency of capitalist accumulation”, according to Colletti “this is the most verified of all Marx’s predictions; the capitalist concentration and centralization he forecast.”
The eminent American economist Leontiev, espousing Marx’s theory, said:
“The record is indeed impressive; increasing concentration of wealth, rapid elimination of small and medium sized enterprises, progressive limitation of competition, incessant technological progress accompanied by ever-growing importance of fixed capital and last but not least the un-diminishing amplitude of recurrent business cycles an unsurpassed series of prognostications fulfilled, against which modern economic theory with all its refinements has little to show indeed.”
Rosa Luxemburg and Kautsky both have rejected Bernstein’s criticism. Luxemburg and Kautsky have said that by rejecting Marx’s theory of collapse of capitalism Bernstein abandoned the nucleus of Marxism.
So it is not Bernstein’s revisionism, it is abandonment of Marxism. Bernstein rejected not only Marx’s theory of capitalism along with its collapse but also many other important theories of Marx. Kautsky has said, “Capitalist society has failed; its dissolution is only a question of time; irresistible economic development leads with natural necessity to the bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production.”
Even in the eighties of the twentieth century and in the first decade of the twenty-first century capitalism has been found to face crises. This clearly indicates that Marx’s analysis of capitalism is correct.
On the other hand Bernstein fails to assure us that his analysis is true to the fact. By advancing queer logic he rejected the collapse of capitalism, but facts of actual situation offer us a different picture.
Let us quote a small passage from Colletti’s book:
“In the Great Depression lasting from 1873 to 1895 all the fundamental categories of Marx’s analysis came fully into play the tendency of the rate of profit to fall due to the organic composition of capital, stagnation and partial saturation of outlets for investment, unimpeded action of competition, which apart from affecting profit margins, resulted in spectacular fall in prices”.
Engels got the opportunity to witness the catastrophic consequences of the crisis of capitalism predicted by Marx and also by him. Even in the twentieth century there were also a number of depressions both small and big.
So Bernstein’s contention that capitalism would never collapse because of its self-regulatory mechanism does not hold good in practice. Rather, Marx’s predictions are more correct.
Bernstein did not agree with the inevitability of socialism propounded by Marx and Engels. Engels was also aware that progress of socialism or its inevitability was faced with a big question mark and he also advanced the reasons.
According to Engels, when colonialism was at its zenith the British capitalists earned unimaginable amount of profit through the sale of its product in the larger areas of the markets of Asia and Africa and the British workers got a share of this profit which satisfied them.
Naturally they were not concerned with socialism. The disinterestedness of the British working class was a major factor of why socialism could not make any advancement. Engels called it the privileged position of the British working class. He repeatedly pointed it out to Kautsky when the latter in London in 1885.
Bernstein vehemently criticized Marx’s theory of the autonomy of economy and, again, this can be repudiated in the following way. In his letter to Bloch (1890) Engels said, “If anybody twists this (economic determinism) into saying that economic elements are the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract phrase.”
After this assertion of Engels there cannot be any doubt what Marx and Engels wanted to say. They categorically denied the accusation of “fatalism”. Kautsky also said that both Marx and Engels specifically acknowledged the importance of human factor and human invention in history.
The overthrow of capitalism, Marx said, could never be performed by purely economic causes. We thus see that Bernstein levelled fabricated and ill-conceived charges against Marx.
Bernstein repeatedly said one thing “What is generally called the ultimate goal of socialism is nothing to me; the movement is everything.” Kolakowski says that what Bernstein exactly wants to say is not clear at all, rather it distorts the ideas of Marx elaborated in The Civil War in France and in the German Ideology.
Marx said that the scientific socialism did not offer the working class a rosy picture of a perfect socialist society nor even a perfect society. The purpose of Marx in these two books and in other writings was to show and ascertain the economic and social tendencies and to arouse the consciousness of the workers and activate them so that they could change the existing social order.
It was necessary to study natural historical tendencies in embryo or, as he put it in 1843, to force these petrified relationship to dance by playing their own tune to them. This attitude of Marx was certainly opposed to all sentimental and moralizing Utopias, but not to the hope of a single violent revolution.
Marx had said that so long there was capitalism; workers would not be able to improve their economic condition. Bernstein rejected this important premise of Marx. He said that, even in the worst form of capitalism, through concerted efforts and agitations, the workers can improve their lot.
If we accept Bernstein’s contention then socialism as a revolutionary doctrine immediately loses its importance. The implication is: socialism is no longer a revolutionary doctrine. But the Marxists are not prepared at all to make any compromise.
Bernstein’s thought suffers from a serious contradiction. If the workers can improve their economic conditions under capitalist system through democratic processes and parliamentary initiative then socialism is definitely unnecessary.
Why should the workers strive for socialism? Socialism is not a superior system to capitalism. Let capitalism be a permanent system and workers enjoy heavenly peace and comfort.
It may be asked naively if capitalism is endowed with self-regulatory mechanism to cure the ills of over-production, why did capitalism fall into the great depression in the last quarter of the nineteenth century?
Again there was great depression in the thirties of the current century. Why did the self-regulated mechanism fail? Bernstein was quite aware of the earlier depression and he could not provide any satisfactory explanation.
Rosa Luxemburg criticized Bernstein on the following ground:
If we accept Bernstein’s logic that capitalism can be reformed from within, the consequences of anarchical production can be removed and finally, by all these means, the sufferings of the workers can be mitigated, then there is no necessity of revolution at all. Does the working of the capitalist system assure us in the light.
The answer is an emphatic no. Reforms are impossible in the capitalist system. The workers are exploited and they continue to be exploited. The only way out is revolution. It is true that in some countries or in some industries the workers may get higher wages or certain other fringe benefits, but the Marxists firmly hold the view that this is not the solution of the problem.
Explaining Luxemburg’s view Kolakowski says:
“The state of things cannot be eliminated or be improved without expropriating the capitalists. There is a qualitative difference between revolution and reforms of any kind”.
Kolakowsky has correctly differentiated revolution from reforms. Reforms of capitalism can definitely change the economic conditions of the working class in a very limited scale but these have no capacity to bring about radical changes.
Bernstein committed a blunder. He thought that piecemeal changes in economic and other fields could bring about a large amount of economic progress. But this is not correct.
First of all, the capitalists and their cohorts will not allow any important change that could improve the conditions of the working class.
Secondly, in capitalist system there was very little scope to fight against the capitalists as well as the state administration. Both the capitalists and the state are bound by an unholy alliance.
Luxemburg further observes that three consequences are associated with the development of capitalism:
(a) Break-down of capitalism is inevitable because of the anarchical conditions in production,
(b) Gradual socialization of the productive process augurs the advent of a future social system which will be free from exploitation,
(c) Maturity of workers’ consciousness and organizing capacity will make revolution inevitable.
All these three facilitate the advent of scientific socialism. Unfortunately, Bernstein rejects these basic principles of Marxism.
The rejection means to throw out Marxism. In Luxemburg’s own words:
“But if one admits with Bernstein that capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, then socialism ceases to be objectively necessary.”
The ruin of capitalism and the emergence of socialism are the fundamental premises of Marxism. Bernstein refuses to oblige the Marxists by showing allegiance to these premises.
We can criticize Bernstein for his anti-Marxist stance, but we cannot excuse him for his blatant espousal for colonialism.
If he were a real socialist he could keep himself above the parochial German interests. His contemporary Germany was a big colonial power and much of her economic interests was connected with the colonies for that reason Bernstein supported colonialism.
He had no sympathy for the people exploited by German colonialism. Some critics are of opinion that he supported both capitalism and colonialism because his numerous friends who were capitalists wanted capitalism and colonialism.
Again, these persons wanted to capture and retain state power. Bernstein was quite conscious of it and, perhaps mainly for that reason, he supported capitalism in a roundabout way.
Bernstein also could not free himself from illusion and Utopian thought. He had great faith on reforms and parliamentary enactments. If all these were so powerful then Britain would have been the first country in the world to achieve socialism.
History tells us the opposite. Bernstein’s revisionism or evolutionary socialism is the German brand of Fabian Socialism of Britain. In Bernstein’s time the German workers succeeded in getting some benefits from the capitalists by employing collective bargaining and other trade union methods. This encouraged Bernstein and he thought that socialism could not be equated with attainment of certain economic gains since it was not its chief objective.
Socialism aims at the complete emancipation of workers and all-round progress of society. Reforms might have the capacity to alleviate the sufferings of workers, but general upliftment is impossible.
Moreover, the Utopian socialists, particularly Robert Owen, left no stone unturned to change the heart and outlook of capitalists, but the petrified heart showed no sign of melting. So Bernstein’s hope is simply Utopian.
Bernstein was fundamentally a man of bourgeois mentality. He was allured by the ever-increasing popularity of socialism. His association with Engels made him sympathetic to socialism. But at the same time, because of his bourgeois mentality, he could not dissociate himself from the bourgeois system.
He attempted an effort for a compromise—compromise between bourgeois system and socialist goals. The tangible result is evolutionary socialism. But socialism understands no compromise; it makes no room for the rehabilitation of moribund capitalism.
In fact, it is ruthless, it wants capitalism’s collapse. Peaceful coexistence between capitalism and socialism is impossible.
Conclusion to Bernstein’s Revisionism:
Bernstein’s revisionism has been vehemently criticized but something still may be said in its support. Revisionism of Bernstein, it has been noted, is not without any root.
Engels has already acknowledged the futility of agitational techniques for the realization of demands or mobilization of forces for the seizure of political power.
Engels himself admitted the utility of parliamentary tactics, reforms and other democratic methods of movements. Bernstein also emphasized upon these methods for the attainment of worker’s demands.
Hence in the strictest sense Bernstein cannot be blamed for advocating revisionism. Since the death of Marx in 1883 the political scenario of Europe was undergoing rapid changes. Elections were held in many parts, workers were participating in those elections, in many places movements were very peaceful arid industrialists were cooperating so far as the demands of workers were concerned.
Bernstein witnessed all these incidents and from that he came to the conclusion that violent agitation or revolutionary struggle against the capitalists had lost sharpness and, according to Bernstein, time had arisen to review the old method and think about new methods.
Workers in many parts of Western Europe laid their hope upon reforms as a means of realizing demand. This encouraged revisionism.
Kolakawski has observed:
“The history of revisionism does not suggest that the working class is naturally revolutionary because it is forced to sell its labour power and is incurably alienated in consequence. Thus it was not only in the doctrinal field that revisionism called into question the traditional belief in the revolutionary mission of the proletariat, the belief was challenged, perhaps more effectively still, by the success of revisionism as a social phenomenon, which robbed socialism of the glamorous prospect of a final battle for universal liberation”.
We think that Kolakawski’s assessment of revisionism is quite correct. Kolakawski arrived at this conclusion in the background of the failure of socialism in Eastern European countries.
We know that Stalin imposed communism in East European states, but after few years they were faced with crisis and ultimately the communist governments collapsed.
The mere fact is that the people of these states did not cooperate with the dictatorial communist governments. Many of them felt that the economic condition of common men could be improved through democratic ways.
There is a good amount of force and violence in revolution which is the way suggested by socialism for the radical change of society. It is a fact that the rise in the popularity of revisionism was chiefly due to the drawbacks of orthodox doctrinaire Marxism and people’s strong apathy to violent methods of class struggle. For some reason the workers at the beginning of the 20th century came to the conclusion that violent class struggle and class animosity would lead nowhere and because of that “conviction” they came to lay faith on traditional parliamentary means and reforms as weapons for the realization of demands.
It can also be added that after the Second World War both the workers and the capitalists have changed considerably. The capitalists thought that for industrialization workers were indispensable and for that they began to meet the basic and reasonable demands of workers.
Again, the workers abandoned the militancy of agitation. They launched peaceful agitation and adopted collective bargaining to fulfill their demands. This is one of the causes of the declining condition of Marxism.
It is said that Marxism has two broad aspects-theoretical and practical. So far as the former in concerned there is no place of revising or amending the basic tenets. It is perfectly right. But the theoretical aspect of a doctrine of social science is not all.
It ought to be tested by the events of real world. That is, the theory must be applied to reality and if it comes out with flying colours then the theory shall be accepted.
The practical aspect of Marxian doctrine, it is said, is not above criticism. Lenin and many of his successors wanted to implement Marxism in erstwhile Soviet Union. Particularly Lenin was serious in regard to the application of Marxism on the soil of Russia.
In several fields during the regime of Communist Party Russia achieved miraculous success but ultimately, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed leading to the creation of several independent sovereign states that subsequently formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Many critics hastily conclude that the inherent defects of Marxism might be considered as the chief factor of disintegration of Russia.
Today in the 21st century and at the beginning of a millennium we are of opinion that theoretical Marxism has lost a major portion of its sharpness or validity. In the present day world situation practically there is no place of applying orthodox Marxism.
Even China who claims to be a communist state has adopted many economic and other policies which do not corroborate Marxian doctrine. Particularly China’s acceptance of capitalism’s liberal economic policies does not, in the remotest way, support orthodox Marxism and critics conclude that this is sheer rejection of Marxism.
If Bernstein were alive today he would have danced at the sight of these two memorable incidents fall of Soviet Union and entry of liberal economic policies into China.
At the beginning of the eighties of the nineteenth century Fabian Society was convinced that only socialism could save the British working class from increasing poverty and squalor of life. But under no circumstances it could be Marxian socialism, because the British working class had already developed a strong apathy against violent revolution which was the only way of achieving socialism.
Moreover, people’s consciousness and victory of numerous democratic methods have blunted the sharpness of Marxian techniques. Fabian Society in this way laid the foundation of a socialism which is popularly called evolutionary socialism.
Bernstein’s revisionism is also directed to that purpose. Today in many parts of the world there is to be found either evolutionary socialism or any of its variety. Theoretical Marxism, to use a mild term, has been kept in abeyance.
There is no place of lamentation so far as this miserable fate of orthodox Marxism is concerned. There is a gulf of difference between capitalism of Marx’s time and capitalism of the twenty first century.
The capitalists have changed, amended, and in some cases have rejected their means, so also has socialism. The capitalism of 19th century will dismally fail (if it were alive today) to solve the problems of the 21st century. For its own survival it has adjusted itself with the changed situation.
The same is applicable to socialism. Today there is nothing like “agmark” capitalism or socialism. Both are subject to change for the adjustment of changed situation.
The orthodox capitalist countries have been found to adapt some socialist methods. The reverse is also true. The case of China may be cited as an example. One may call it a compromise between capitalism and socialism and many may refuse to be in the line. But the mere fact is that in a social science there is hardly any place of any orthodox ideology.
A compromise or adjustment between different “isms” or ideologies is always found and that is the trend and the trend is a realistic one. If amelioration of people’s condition through the implementation of any political ideology is the leitmotif then adjustment or compromise between different ideologies is indispensable. This is the cause of the emergence of revisionism or evolutionary socialism. This was spearheaded by Fabian Society in England and Bernstein in Germany.
It they were not, other persons could have performed the job. A method or technique or person is the product of a practical situation. Marx and Engels were the products of Industrial Revolution. Fabian Socialism and Bernstein’s revisionism were the products of the economic, political and other conditions of the twenty-first century. Hence Bernstein cannot be blamed.
The revisionism created a foundation of a new social democracy. Let us quote Kolakowski “This new doctrine was a compromise between liberalism and Marxian socialism and socialist variant of liberalism. It was applied to situations other than those envisaged by classical Marxism and appealed to different psychological motivations”.
There is no doubt that compared with theoretical Marxian socialism; the appeal of evolutionary socialism is quite broad and far-reaching. Its appeal spreads too many sections of society.
Here lies the credit of evolutionary socialism in general and Bernstein’s revisionism in particular. Even revisionism or the revised form of socialism is not the last word. Today we are seriously thinking about “welfarism”.
Both big and small states of all the continents are adopting policies and strategies for improving the economic and other conditions of people. These are collectively called welfare policies. Many of the principles of socialism are included into it.