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marxism and beinstein

Asked by itsaboutagirl | Nov 15, 2007 | A Level > Politics > Homework
itsaboutagirl asks:

Evolutionary and revolutionary socialism disagree about both the ends and means. Discuss. thankyou.

etutor answers:

These are effectively the two competing traditions within socialism. Since socialists have held very different ideas of what a socialist society should look like, they have evolved different definitions of socialism, and hence there are indeed profound disagreements about both ends and means. The concern with means arises out of the fact that socialism has an oppositional character as it is a force for change, for the transformation of capitalist society. Hence the 'road' adopted is not simply strategically significant; it also determines the character of the socialist movement and influences the form of socialism eventually achieved. So means and ends have a symbiotic relationship.

Many early socialists believed that socialism could only be achieved by the revolutionary overthrow of the existing political and economic system, and accepted that violence would be an inevitable feature of such a revolution. For instance, Marx and Engels envisaged a proletarian revolution where the class-conscious working masses would rise up to overthrow capitalism. In 1917, the first successful socialist revolution took place when a dedicated group of Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in what was essentially a coup d'etat.

Capitalism was viewed by revolutionary socialists as a system of oppression and exploitation. In the 19th century the working classes had few, if any means of political influence; in general, they were excluded everywhere from political life. Wherever constitutional government had developed, the right to vote was generally confined via a property qualification to the middle lasses. Hence for the unenfranchised working masses the only realistic prospect of introducing socialism lay with political revolution. Revolution has, however, not merely been a tactical issue for socialists; it also reflects their analysis of the state and its coercive power. While liberals saw the state as a neutral body, acting in the common good, revolutionary socialists saw it as an agent of oppression, acting in the interests of capital and against those of labour. On this basis, political reform and gradual change are pointless. Universal suffrage and regular, competitive elections are a facade, their purpose being to conceal the reality of unequal class and to misdirect the energies of the working class. A class-conscious proletariat thus has no alternative but to overthrow the bourgeois state through political revolution in order to build socialism. Marx believed that this revolution would be followed by a temporary period of 'dictatorship of the proletariat', during which the revolution would need to be protected against the danger of counter-revolutoion carried out by the dispossessed bourgeoisie. Eventually the state would 'wither away' and a classless society, based upon the common ownership of the means of production and reward based upon need rather than private profit, would be established.

Revolution had the advantage that it allowed the remnants of the old order to be overthrown and an entirely new social system to be constructed. So, for example, when the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, seized power in Cambodia in 1975 they declared 'Year Zero'. Capitalism could be abolished and a qualitatively different socialist society established in its place. Socialism, in this context, usually took the form of state collectivisation, modelled upon the Soviet Union during the Stalinist period. The revolution 'road' was also associated with a drift towards dictatorship, one-party rule and the use of political repression. LIn rooting out the vestiges of the old order, all opposition forces were also removed, effectively preparing the way for the construction of totalitarian dictatorships.The revolutionary socialist tradition was fatally undermined by the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991.

In sharp contrast, evolutionary socialism reflects the capacity of capitalism to adapt. In western Europe by the late 19th century the urban working class had generally lost its revolutionary character abd had been integrated into society. Wages and living standards were rising, while the working class had begun to develop a range of institutions, including trades unions and politicalparties, which both protected their interests and nurtured a sense of security and belonging within industrial society. Moreover, the franchise was steadily extended to include the working classes. The effect of these changes was to shift the attention of workers away from violent insurrection and to persuade them that there was an alternative, evolutionary, democratic (or 'parliamentary') route to socialism.Where revolutionary doctrines continued to dominate it was usually in economically and politically backward countries such as Russia.

The Fabian Society, founded in 1884, took up the cause of evolutionary socialism in the UK. Socialism would develop naturally and peacefully out of liberal capitalism. This would occur through a combination of political action and education. Political action required the formation of a socialist party, which would compete for power against established parliamentary parties rather than prepare for violent revolution. Hence it was accepted that the state was a neutral arbiter in contrast to the Marxist belief that it was an agent of oppression. The Fabians also believed that elite groups could be converted to socialism as they came to ealise that it was morally superior to capitalism - a socialist economy, for instance, could avoid the waste involved in class conflict and debilitating poverty.

Hence the extension of political democracy would enable the state to respond to working class interests, with socialism established through a gradual process of social reform, and redistribution of income and wealth. Such ideas were developed extensively by Eduard Bernstein (1898 'Evolutionary Socialism') whose ideas paralleled the Fabian belief in gradualism. Hence the working class could use the ballot rather than the bullet to introduce socialism, which would thus develop as an evolutionary outgrowth of capitalism. Such principles dominated the working class political parties, including the British Labour party, that sprang up around the turn of the century. The advent of poltical democracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused a wave of optimism to spread through the socialist movement, as reflected in the Fabian prophecy of 'the inevitability of gradualism'. While Marx had predicted the inevitable overthrow of capitalist society in a proletarian revolution through the irresistible forces of class conflict (dialectical materialism), evolutionary socialists highlighted the logic of the democratic process itself. Political equality would work in the interests of the majority (the working class), who would naturally be drawn to socialist parties offering the prospect of social justice and emancipation. Once in power, socialist parties would be able to carry out a fundamental transformation of society through a process of social reform, incorporating income redistribution, state provision of welfare, increased power for workers, management of the economy and protection against exploitation. Over time, therefore, there would inevitably be a move towards greater economic and social equality.

This is a complex subject. I hope this outline is helpful.

1 student responses


thankyou for you quick responce!this has definately helped me to write my essay but i think i definately need to do more independant learning! this subject is hard! thankyou, angelina xxxxx

responded Nov 23, 2007 1:01:58 PM GMT
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