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Socialist "Revisionism": The Immediate Tasks of Social Democracy (1899)

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I am not talking about renouncing the so-called right of revolution, this purely speculative right, which no constitution can enshrine and no law book in the world can prohibit, and which will exist for as long as the law of nature forces us to die if we renounce the right to breathe. This unwritten law is no more affected by the fact that one takes a stance on the ground of reform, than the right of self-defense is renounced by the fact that we create laws to regulate our personal and property disputes. [ . . . ]

As for the rest, I repeat that the more Social Democracy decides that it wants to appear to be what it is, the more its chances of carrying out political reforms will increase. Fear is certainly a major factor in politics, but one would be mistaken to believe that the incitement of fear could accomplish everything. It was not when the Chartist movement was at its most revolutionary that the English workers attained the right to vote, but when the revolutionary slogans had died down and they allied themselves with the radical bourgeoisie to fight for the attainment of reforms. And if someone counters that something similar is impossible in Germany, I would urge him to read up on what the liberal press was writing about labor union struggles and worker legislation only fifteen and twenty years ago, and how the representatives of these parties spoke and voted in the Reichstag when issues of that nature had to be decided. Perhaps he would then agree that the political reaction is by no means the most characteristic phenomenon in bourgeois Germany.

Source: Eduard Bernstein, Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie [The Preconditions of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy]. Stuttgart, 1899. Chapter 4, Section D, p. 144 ff.

German text reprinted in Ernst Schraepler, ed., Quellen zur Geschichte der sozialen Frage in Deutschland. 1871 bis zur Gegenwart [Sources on the History of the Social Question in Germany. 1871 to the Present]. 3rd edition. Göttingen and Zurich, 1996, pp. 136-43.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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