The requirements of socialism and the tasks of social democracy

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Edition from 1906.

The requirements of socialism and the tasks of social democracy is a book published in 1899 by Eduard Bernstein . This book was a summary and expansion of two articles from the years 1897 and 1899, which had appeared in the journal " Die Neue Zeit " published by Karl Kautsky . The book quickly gained importance in the German social democracy . Bernstein is considered to be the founder of the revisionist movement in the SPD and with this book laid its first important theoretical expression.


Bernstein advocated modifying or rejecting Marx's theories. Because of Marx's reference to David Ricardo and Hegel , his analyzes would often not be scientific and would not be useful for understanding reality. Following the current bourgeois economics, he rejected the labor theory of value and with it also the theory of surplus value , which Engels described as one of Marx's most important achievements. Bernstein believed that the class struggle was not increasing but rather decreasing. There would be no concentration and centralization of capital, as Marx asserted, which he tried to demonstrate on the basis of German, Dutch and English statistics. He was of the opinion that cartels and business syndicates promote a harmonious development of capitalism, which is why he also questioned the Marxian considerations on the crisis-prone nature of capitalist production. He contrasted the Marxian theory with his concept of an evolutionary socialism .


This theoretical advance by the revisionist wing of the SPD was promptly replied by the left wing and Marxist orthodoxy . Rosa Luxemburg attacked Bernstein as early as 1898 and formulated the first features of her collapse theory . She characterized Bernstein's theory as follows:

“This whole theory boils down to nothing more than the advice to abandon social upheaval, the ultimate goal of social democracy, and, conversely, to turn social reform out of a means of class struggle into its end. Bernstein himself most aptly and sharply formulated his views when he wrote: 'The end goal, whatever it is, is nothing to me, the movement everything.' "

Kautsky also immediately criticized Bernstein's theses in detail.

Bernstein's writing was also picked up in the bourgeois press, as Kautsky reports:

“There is nothing sensational about a social democrat writing a social democratic book.
The matter is quite different when an outstanding social democrat, one of the most 'orthodox' Marxists, writes a book in which he solemnly burns what he has hitherto worshiped and worships what he has burned so far. Developing from a bourgeois democrat to a social democrat is an everyday occurrence, and the bourgeois press has no reason to raise such cases. Quite different when finally, at last, the opposite seems to happen. ... But it is obvious that the bourgeois press understands and exploits his book in this sense and that there is no end to the jubilation about it. After so many defeats, finally a victory! Finally a sign that in the proud, insurmountable Social Democracy at least one of its thinking heads is beginning to get mad about his party and, instead of the confidence of victory, to raise doubts and concerns. Such good news could not be proclaimed loud enough. "


The book quickly gained importance in the German social democracy. On the one hand, Bernstein was for a long time a friend and collaborator of Friedrich Engels , a person of authority in the labor movement, who, along with others, had his estate at his disposal and in this way had probably also achieved a certain level of authority. On the other hand, he was the founder of the revisionist current in the SPD , which found its first important theoretical expression with this book. Eduard Bernstein's political positioning had several social bases. In 1895 a long boom began, which could provide a basis for improving the living conditions of the working masses, which is why it was easier to advocate gradual and peaceful reforms in capitalism.

"There are no signs of unheard-of vehemence from an economic world crash, nor can the business improvement that has now begun be described as particularly short-lived."

Another background for Bernstein's position could be established in the imperialist era itself. It was now possible for capitalism to grant concessions to parts of the working class in the imperialist centers in order to pacify the social situation ( labor aristocracy ), which could represent a basis for reform policy.


  • Eduard Bernstein: Statement to the party congress. September 29, 1898 ( online ).
  • Eduard Bernstein: The requirements of socialism and the tasks of social democracy. 1899 ( online ).
  • Eduard Bernstein: To my socialist critics. In: Socialist monthly books. 1/1900 (January 1900), pp. 3-14 ( online ).
  • Karl Kautsky: Bernstein and the Social Democratic Program. An anti-criticism. Dietz, Stuttgart 1899 ( online ).
  • Karl Kautsky: Speech against the revisionist views of Eduard Bernstein. September 1901 at the SPD party conference ( online ).
  • Rosa Luxemburg: Social Reform or Revolution. In: Leipziger Volkszeitung. No. 219-225, 21.-28. September 1898, and No. 76-80, 4.- 8. April 1899 ( 2nd edition 1908 online ).
  • Rosa Luxemburg: Kautsky's Book Against Amber. In: Leipziger Volkszeitung. No. 218-221, 20.-23. September 1899 ( online ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rosa Luxemburg: Social Reform or Revolution ?. Preface.
  2. ^ Karl Kautsky: Bernstein and the Social Democratic Program. introduction
  3. Eduard Bernstein: The requirements of socialism and the tasks of social democracy. Hamburg 1970, p. 99; quoted from Martin Jakob: Starting points and beginnings of the Marxist imperialism debate. In: Marxism. No. 7, March 1995, ISBN 3-901831-04-5