Karl Kautsky

Bernstein’s old articles and new afflictions

(June 1901)

Karl Kautsky, Bernsteins alte Artikel und neue Schmerzen, Neue Zeit, No.35, June 1901.
English translation published in Justice, 20 July 1901)
Transcribed by Adam Buick.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the June number (No.35) of the Neue Zeit, the official scientific organ of the German Social-Democratic Party, appeared an article by our comrade Kautsky entitled Bernsteins alte Artikel und neue Schmerzen (Bernstein’s Old Articles and New Afflictions), from which it affords us very great pleasure to give extensive quotations, as they will assist our readers in appreciating and understanding Mr. Bernstein, who, we regret to say, is so frequently misunderstood. Kautsky writes:–

Bernstein has published a book entitled, A Contribution to the History and Theory of Socialism, containing a collection of old articles which he published in the course of the last ten years. In this new edition he repeatedly omits to state where these articles formerly appeared. We will, therefore, mention that they were nearly all, with few exceptions, published in the Neue Zeit.

In that magazine they will be found in full, without any abbreviation. In the present edition several passages are left out. Bernstein remarks in the preface that he considers it “only right and fair to omit from controversial articles all those passages and phrases which do not necessarily have any connection with the subject matter under discussion, but only refer to the opponent personally, and therefore transgress the limit of what is permissible in an objective discussion.” As far as I can see this omission of controversial passages takes place only when they are directed against opponents of our party. The controversial passages of a personal nature against some of our comrades have not only been reprinted in full, but have, on the contrary, been enriched by several additions ...

Unfortunately for Bernstein he stood at one time in the same camp upon which he now fires his shots, and at that time the coarsest shots were fired off by him. This circumstance has its unpleasant side, when old memories are revived. Notwithstanding the most painstaking selection of the republished articles, Bernstein could not prevent it that some of them were reprinted which – to use his own expression – were examples of downright slaughter of the very same “free science” which now enjoys the honour of counting him amongst its champions.

For instance, an article by Bernstein in the Neue Zeit in regard to The Latest Performance of Mr. Lujo Brentano, says: “The proposal to alter the form of the sentence in the party programme referring to the law of wages has been received with loud shrieks, not in the ranks of the Social-Democrats, but in those of our opponents. Partly from old habit and party from ignorance. This ignorance finds expression in a classical manner in an article by Mr. Lujo Brentano.” In the new edition the title of the article is toned down to Brentano on Social-Democracy and the Law of Wages, and the above passages in italics are omitted; “this ignorance” is replaced by the single word “this”, which word now becomes meaningless. A few lines further down, Brentano, as author of a slanderous pamphlet against Marx and Engels, is no longer “nailed to the counter” by Bernstein, but only “challenged”. And so on.

The article on The Theory of the Wages Fund concluded with the sentence: “The middle-class economy with its insuperable reluctance to a thorough analysis of the process of production of the wealth of the classes, leaves us in the lurch in this matter, as on so many other questions. The most favourable things offered to us are eclectic commonplaces.”

This sentence has vanished from the new edition, just as the following sentence has disappeared from the last chapter of the series of articles on the iron law of wages: “And from the fact that the Herr Professor speaks of the irony with which, in regard to the law of wages, Lassalle characterised the English working men’s organisations, whilst he carefully conceals the position taken up by Marx towards the trade union movement, we may be permitted, we suppose, to draw the conclusion that this is a case, not only of scientific, but of moral – may we express it by a foreign word? – insanity on his part.” (Neue Zeit, IX, I, p. 601-3.)

This careful concealment on the part of Herr Professor is carefully suppressed in the new edition, and therefore one is released from the painful necessity of characterising it. A few lines further down his scoffing at the modern professor-like eclecticism is also omitted. It ran as follows: “When these gentlemen are, in addition, duly hall-marked representatives of University science, they call the unsystematic fumbling the historical-realistic method. Probably because it ignores the actual historical facts in the same manner as it constantly jumbles up cause and effect.”

On page 604 of the said volume of the Neue Zeit Bernstein reproduced a long extract from Capital, which concluded with the sentence: “The Pharisees of Political Economy now proclaimed the proposal for a working-day regulated by law as a characteristic new acquisition to their ‘science’”. To which he added the remark: “I need hardly explain why I also quote this last sentence.”

In the new edition this short addendum has also vanished into space.

Bernstein republished his old articles, as he says in the preface, “in order to oppose those who seem to draw the inference from my last writings, that I have altogether thrown overboard the views formerly held by me.” In order to enable the reader to judge what inference is really to be drawn from his old articles, he was bound to reprint them in full. And, moreover, he himself should have refrained from striking anything out of them. But this he did not do. It did not suit his purpose to select for the new edition only those of his old articles which seemed most suitable. No, he went further, and “selected” a number of passages from the selected articles, and deliberately struck them out. He says in his preface, that these “selections” were words used in the heat of discussion, they had nothing to do with the matter in question, and that he now considered them as being improper, and therefore it was not right that they should be repeated.

To us the matter appears in a different light. It is just these “selected” passages, which are characteristic; they prove that Bernstein’s present-day views are in direct antagonism to them. These suppressed passages prove that Bernstein was an aggressive critic of the bourgeois science, which to-day he raises to the skies. These suppressed passages do, however, not only show Bernstein’s former views, but also the bitterness with which he would have attacked a comrade who, during Engels’s life-time, would have dared to develop the ideas which our critical Socialist himself holds to-day. The criticism passed by me on him is milk and honey compared with the sulphuric acid of the criticism which he passed on the “eclectic commonplaces”, the “unsystematic fumbling”, the “ignorance” and the “moral insanity” of the “Pharisees of Political Economy”.


Last updated on 5.1.2004