Monday 4 March 2013

Bernstein on Capitalist Development

I haven't forgotten I'm supposed to be writing about Bernstein. Needless to say, rereading Evolutionary Socialism some 16 years after first doing so is proving fascinating. Of that another time. But in lieu of a proper blog tonight, here's an interesting comment on capitalist development and material interest:
... the point of economic development attained today leaves the ideological, and especially the ethical, factors greater space for independent activity than was formerly the case. In consequence of this the interdependency of cause and effect between technical, economic evolution, and the evolution of other social tendencies is becoming always more direct, and from that the necessities of the first are losing much of their power of dictating the form of the latter. - Eduard Bernstein 1909, pp 15-16
Translated into contemporary Marx-speak, Bernstein clearly grasped that the relative autonomy of what we have traditionally called superstructural phenomena grows as capitalism develops. It's one of those neat ironies of history - the more capitalism drives social development, the less the fruits of that evolution are directly dependent on and determined by the structural tendencies of capitalist economics. As bourgeois and proletarians struggle over their material interests and benefit from the successful prosecution of them, the less that conflict overtly plays a part in conditioning the outlooks of strata and classes. In many ways, this insight precedes the arguments underpinning post-materialism by 70 or 80 years, and implicitly draws attention to cultural struggle long before Gramsci did so. 

Not bad for a renegade.


Chris said...

It is absolutely wrong to call it evolutionary socialism.

We can certainly say that capitalism has evolved and is evolving, with all the good and devastating bad that goes along with it.

But we are as far from socialism as we ever have been, I think!

Phil said...

I think the title is a mistranslation from the original German which, I'm told, was called 'The Preconditions of Socialism'. Whether by accident or design, ES is a title that stands deliberately out against the 2nd International's formal adherence to revolution.

As for our distance from socialism, well, I'm forever optimistic ...