The present book has not only had its history, it has also in some way made a little history. Called forth by the circumstances described in the preface to the German edition, it created at its appearance a fair stir inside and outside German social democracy. Opponents of socialism declared it to be the most crushing testimony of the unsoundness of the socialist theory, and criticism of capitalist society and socialist writers. First of all Karl Kautsky denounced it as an abandonment of the fundamental principles and conception of scientific socialism. Induced by all this the German social democratic party put the book on the agenda of its Hanover Congress (October, 1899), where it was discussed in a debate that lasted three days and a half and ended with the acceptance of a resolution that was meant to be a rejection of the views put forward by the author.
I could not at that time take part in the debate. For political reasons I had to stay away from German territory. But I declared then that I regarded the excitement of my comrades over the book as the outcome of a state of nervous irritation created by the deductions the opponents of socialism drew from some of its sentences, and by an overestimation of the importance to socialism of the tenets fought by me. But I could withdraw nothing, and although ten years have lapsed since, and I have now had seven years’ most intimate knowledge of German political and economical conditions, I cannot yield on any material point. Subsequently the views put forward in the book have received the bye-name of REVISIONISM, and although some of those who are called REVISIONISTS in German social democracy hold on several points views different from mine, the book can, all in all, be regarded as an exposition of the theoretical and political tendencies of the German social democratic revisionists. It is widely read in Germany; only some weeks ago a new – the ninth – edition of it has been published.
For reasons explained in the preface to the first German edition the book is occasionally written in a rather hesitating way. But its principal aim will appear, I think, clear enough. It is the strong accentuation of what in Germany is called the GEGENWARTSARBEIT – the every-day work of the socialist party – that work in the furrows of the field which by many is regarded as mere stop-gap work compared with the great coming upheaval, and of which much has been done consequently in a half-hearted way only. Unable to believe in finalities at all, I cannot believe in a final aim of socialism. But I strongly believe in the socialist movement, in the march forward of the working classes, who step by step must work out their emancipation by changing society from the domain of a commercial landholding oligarchy to a real democracy which in all its departments is guided by the interests of those who work and create.
Berlin W.30, March 31st, 1909.
Last updated on 16.3.2003