Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Bernstein, Bare

I'm getting near the end of Eduard Bernstein's 「The Preconditions of Socialism」. It's been a very challenging read, partly because Bernstein cites a lot of figures (that I try to verify and look further into, which takes additional research) for his economic/social analyses, and partly because Bernstein is one of the thinkers whose political philosophy is closest to mine; Bernstein's views feel like they might be near Bernie Sanders', and I'm moderately more socialist than him. In the part of the book I'm on now, Bernstein is discussing broad tactics, and why he prefers a slow in-system transition to socialism rather tan a revolution (where such a transition is possible, which includes most western bourgeois-capitalist democracy), as well as why he sees socialism as a completion of liberalism and democracy rather than in opposition to them. Interesting stuff, and he's taking good jabs at the anarchists, the capitalist-liberals, and others. He has offered criticism of positions like mine though (both tactical and theoretical; I've advocated a mix of top-down autocracy cementing a socialist commitment but mostly functioning as a reserve power, and bottom-up democracy particularly in the workplace, and Bernstein is making arguments that such a system cannot work). I am trying to figure out if/how to respond; there are plenty of examples of governments that isolate parts of themselves from popular sufferage in-whole-or-in-part while exposing others to that influence (US supreme court, Iranian GC); is that functionally justified?

Right after that, Bernstein touched on a complicated topic; while talking about colonialism, he says:

「Moreover, we can recognise only a confidential right of savages to the land they occupy. Higher civilisation has ultimately a higher right. It is not conquest but the cultivation of the land that confers an historical right to its use.」

he justifies this with a Marx quote:「Even a whole society, a nation, nay, all contemporary societies taken together are not proprietors of the earth. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and have to leave it improved as boni patres familias to the following generation」

What should we think of this? I understand the pull of the bourgeois intuition that each culture has its land, that we should mind our own business and not interfere too much. While I know that many great abuses in history have been done in the name of being the higher civilisation, I still reject that bourgeois intuition (but want to avoid those abuses too). Unfortunately, it doesn't leave me with much of a theory to think about this kind of thing; I know I am not culturally antiimperialist in the slightest (cultural imperialism, like cultural appropriation, can be a fantastic thing and in some ways), but what about ownership and control? Do we decide that ethnicity or the status quo of a people binds them in a way that legitimises their control over their society or land? Should we think of society and land together on that front?

I have some intuitions; these problems are made smaller by a commitment to the kind of socialism I promote; I believe we should hope/push other nations towards secular-pluralist-enlightenment socialism, and we should find or create factions in those societies friendly to that aim and support them in their idea of reforming their society towards that end. This is a fundamental justice concern. I don't think this should be done with the hopes of making one world nation; the kind of pluralism that I (and Bernstein, perhaps? His writings on syndicalism suggest this) want is easier without eliminating nation-level entities (socialism was not helped by the monoculture of the Soviet Union and its sattelites). What aboit national control of natural resources? As of yet I have no answer. The topic is not just about war; Bernstein was talking about colonialism and multinationalism too, but the topic remains difficult for theorists (the let-contracts-and-or-force-decide proponents are just refusing to address the question, it's not that they've solved it).

Tags: philosophy

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