Internet statement 5/99

Is Bernstein´s article a marxist one ?

To Chris Burford,

In this posting I want to discuss your comments on Bernstein's article concerning the "Wilde"-case. I know, it was posted some time ago, but I think the broached questions are worth to be debated also now.

You wrote about our preface to Bernstein's article (Dec.13, 1998):

It is likely that he would have shown a copy of this article to Engels who did not die till August 5th 1895. It might even be that Bernstein was keen to show the article to his dying mentor. Neue Einheit's assumption that it is self-evidently revisionist is highly precarious. <<<<

That is nothing but a speculation (and an unlikely one, too) and an unfounded insinuation against us. Bernstein's article itself clearly shows the opinion and the intention of its author to which Engels´ never would have agreed. We will see that below. You on the other hand do not want to see that and wrote:

So thanks to Neue Einheit for much work on the translation. It might benefit by a little stylistic polishing but is very adequate for conveying the meaning. Which is that of a serious marxist, that is materialist, and dialectical, commentary on a matter of public controversy in 1895, and a widespread absence of basic bourgeois democratic rights for the great mass of the population in the most intimate areas of their lives, especially for working class women.
I think it is now up to Neue Einheit to explain their concept of revisionism, which led them to spend so much time on a document that is a serious marxist one, whatever criticisms may be made of other work by Bernstein (which I would like to see).
<<<<     (Dec.13, 1998)

That´s nonsense. Bernstein's article by no way is "a serious marxist one".

How did Bernstein argue in his article?

He turns himself against the term "against nature" and wants to replace it by the term "against the normal" and justifies that in the following way:  

How many things are against nature! Our whole cultivated life, our way of living from the morning to the evening is a permanent violation of nature, of the original preconditions of our existence. If it was only the natural what matters as the standard, the worst sexual excess was no more condemnable than, for instance, the writing of a letter, because communication via the written word means by far a greater removal from nature than any form of satisfying the sexual drive which up to now is known.

You wrote about this passage:
"This is a materialist argument against the idealisation of Nature to embody current bourgeois prejudices as absolute eternal truths."

It is unfathomable how you come to this opinion. We thank for such "materialistic arguments". That is something absolutely different.
These sentences are terrible!!

Here Bernstein blackens the whole development of human kind, the whole development of culture and civilization as something against nature. Since the overcoming of the ominous "preconditions of our existence" - this is a kind of Bernstein's Fall of Man - mankind had gone away from the nature, had come out of it. All what was done by mankind after this overcoming, every development had been a "permanent violation of nature". That is reactionary critcism of civilization, that´s even hostility against civilization.
What a perverting of the term nature! Here you have in the first beginning the seed of the present reactionary ecologistic ideology.

This stands in the sharpest contrast to everything ever written by Marx and Engels about the development of mankind and it is under the standard even of many bourgeois authors.

Mankind´s coming out of nature which proceeded in the time of thousand and thousands of years is by no means a process against nature. Quite the reverse. It is in the human nature - in contrary to the animals - that they are learning to recast the external nature by and in the production of their livelihood and that they alter and develop themselves within this process. They become more and more conscious of themselves and towards external nature, they learn to understand the rules of nature and to act accordingly more and more. Particularly the development of writing is a milestone in the history of mankind. Only by that it really became possible to hand over knowledge upon generations and country borders and to form an essential basis for the development of sciences and for the following development of culture and civilzation.

That the process of civilization is going very contradictory, that in its course suppression and exploitation are developing, ruling of classes is arising, all that doesn't change its progressive nature. Development never occurs without contradictions. That capitalism has lead and is leading to massive over-exploitation of human beings and natural resources in a never known extent, that for example in the 19th century capitalism in England wrecked the working class physically in such an extent that the state, worried about not getting suitable soldiers, felt compelled to intervene is by no means an argument for defaming the whole development of culture and for holding it up as being against nature. [At most the exploiters themselves who unmovedly stop at nothing in order to get profit could be described as against nature. But in doing so they do not offend against the nature of capitalism.]

It is a really interesting question how Bernstein hit upon the idea to characterize the development of mankind as against nature, broken away from any social analysis.

Back to text.

After burying the criterion of nature with his absurd twisting of the term nature Bernstein now takes the criterion of normality:

Therefore the word against the normal seems much more appropriate to us than the expression against nature. The concept of the normal, with regard to the subject given, includes as much of the concept of the natural or the appropriate to nature as is required for its proper reflection, but it is more flexible than that, and its use corresponds better to the fact that the moral ideas are historical phenomena which do not go by what may have been in the state of nature but by what is in a given stage of development of society, for which the things that correspond to itself are the normal.
To this it is in no way a contradiction that during all ages the form of actuation of sexual life which corresponds to the task of reproducing the species has been regarded the normal one by the people. So far, men are simply tied to what has been set by nature. But there have been epochs, conditions of culture, when that task was hardly more than a concept without essence for large classes of the population, when that what is set by nature ceased to be the norm for them; and this much can be said about today' s cultivated world, that with most of the nations belonging to it the so-called act of copulation in an increasing number of cases not only does not serve the reproduction of the race, but on the contrary, this effect connected to it is regarded a very unwelcome one and if possible is prevented. Formally, the original act of copulation is upheld as a norm, actually, the sexual act is a pure act of pleasure, and, as it is emancipated from generating, is to a high degree unnatural and even against nature; but morals and law don't ask for that but ostracize resp. punish only certain ways of sexual intercourse in which even the appearances of union on behalf of generating are lost- which simply are not only against nature but also against the normal, against the norm still fictionally being upheld. But is this a standpoint which is to be maintained?

Here we have the reduction of the sexual intercourse between man and woman to the function of reproducing the species. Only sexual intercourse which serves reproduction would be natural and normal. Then it is maintained that in the present cultivated world the reproducing of the species has been more and more unwanted and that in fact sexual intercourse had become a pure enjoyment and so it were against nature for itself. Allegedly it is only because of the appearances of union on behalf of reproduction that it is still counting as normal, as the social norm, and so as not to be punished. Other kinds of sexual intercourse - above all homosexuality is meant by him - only were punished and regarded as against the normal because the society continuously adhered to the norm that sexual intercourse and reproduction belong together, what allegedly has become a fiction now.

Here Bernstein lets the cat out of the bag. His whole construction serves for him as a means to hold up homosexuality as an equal kind of sexuality. But his construction is so wobbly and out of the way that the following remarks will be sufficient.

The sexual relation between man and woman -which indeed has its base in human nature- may not and cannot be reduced to the function of reproducing the species nor to mere satisfaction and enjoyment like Bernstein does and like an armada of writers and media in service of the Bourgeoisie did in his time and does nowadays.
In quarrel with the other sex, in trying to find a partner and in taking care to the relation, in educating the children together, people acquire abilities which are of an enormous significance for their further development as social beings. In the course of development of mankind sexuality has risen to that high level of individual sex love between man and woman which has produced the element of love and being loved as an irreplaceable element for the individual's well-being, for their emotional life and for the social cohesion. It has become an essential element of culture.
Everybody knows that from personal experience. (that´s what Engels wrote in his "Origin...")

It is the result of the social conditions that mutual productive and progressive relationships often fail on insurmountable hurdles and that today we have such a social atomization. Social conditions also are reflected in sexual and personal relations and so it is no coincidence that the upper classes -which benefit from profits and gigantic extra-profits coming from the international exploitation- took other moral standards and kinds of behavior as their criterion than the suppressed classes. In Bernstein´s article he finds this not worth mentioning. There he nowhere really attacks the social conditions as a result of the capitalist exploitation. Even when he spoke about the abuse of women and about prostitution it primarily serves for the demand also to cancel the laws against homosexuality:

But if the freedom of contract between man and woman is standing so high that every sexual pleasure is legitimated, for which the female sells her body, then a sensible reason cannot be seen why a similar contract between man and man should be punished by law.

If you wrote about Bernstein

So he is preparing the Social Democratic Party to back the repeal of laws against homosexual acts. Fine. A legitimate and progressive bourgeois democratic right to be protected, which helps the unity of working people against capitalism.

then you are also supporting this propaganda like all those who campaign homosexuality without concerning about its social contents. You do not help building the unity of working people against capitalism, you are harming it.

    weklu,     11 March 1999