To critique something, one must first understand what we are critiquing: what does what, how things fit together, what goes where.
That's what we are going to do now with Matt's comments.
Below I numbered and emphasised some astonishing claims he made in one of his two comments I reproduced earlier. They are key for his argument:
“More generally, I think it's worth it for people to look at Eduard Bernstein's mostly forgotten _The Preconditions of Socialism_. Not because Bernstein, who (1) had been one of Marx's literary executors, has the magic formula for today, but because it's useful to see the ways that (2) he had noted, as early as the 1910's that many of the economic predictions of Marx had not happened, and that the world had changed in ways Marx had not predicted, and that therefore (3) people wishing to be loyal to the spirit, and not the text, of Marx needed to change, too. Unfortunately, (4) he was more or less run out of the "mainstream" Marxist/socialist movement for this heresy, but a significant part of European social democracy was built along the lines he suggested. For the general moral it is still worth reading.” (June 21, 2015)Before tackling them, we must understand how they structure Matt's argument:
- (1) is meant to convey Bernstein’s bona fide as a Marxist theoretician, so much so that Marx himself allegedly trusted him as literary executor. Moreover, it goes to establish Matt's own credibility: he's an educated critic, who's read "really very good" books, "unjustly ignored"; indeed, he's familiar with Marxism and the minutiae of Marx's personal life.
- (2) goes to explain Bernstein's change of mind, "as early as the 1910's". Implicit is that a careful, dispassionate, careful comparison of predictions vs facts forced that change upon him. Matt is a positivist. So was Bernstein and, by implication, so must his readers be. Bernstein and Matt are not Marxists, his readers mustn't be either.
- (3) is both a claim and a plea. The claim: like Bernstein, Matt knows best what the spirit of the Marxist/socialist movement is (It must be pretty evident, too: he saw no need to spell that out). The plea: let’s just bury the Marxist/socialist movement’s body and set its spirit free (it shall speak to us, presumably through learned interpreters like Matt).
So far things seem rather simple. Indeed, they are so simple that now one stumbles upon a difficulty: how come “mainstream Marxists” couldn’t understand that back then? It's not rocket science. The decision is obvious, isn't it?
Claim 4 is Matt's answer: because it was a heresy (Personally, I can’t blame “mainstream Marxists”: the disembodied spirit of socialism speaking to us through a psychically-gifted Matt-lookalike?). Everybody loves the underdog, particularly lefties. Matt gave them one. In his narrative Bernstein was Jesus, “mainstream Marxists” were the Pharisees: thank God Bernstein avoided crucifixion. Sadly, he couldn’t avoid being almost "run out" (or fully “drummed out of the International”, in his other comment).
Readers may say that my mockery is uncalled for. Fine. Let’s be charitable, then, and pick his other explanation. "Mainstream Marxists" were not happy, he wrote in his earlier comment, because “piecemeal reform could work and was infact (before WWI), working”.
Why wouldn't they be happy? Weren't they getting what they -- in Matt's authoritative opinion -- wanted? Bismarck really gave them "piecemeal reform" in Germany during the 1880s-1890s: "Staatssozialismus", he called it, for Christ's sake!
I know readers have already guessed Matt's answer to those questions, but please don't tell me just now. I think I'm able to guess it by myself (I'll leave it for later).
That's how the pieces of Matt's argument, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, are supposed to fit together.
In truth both comments contained other claims (particularly an appeal to iconoclasm for its own sake, something apparently irresistible to the petty bourgeois liberal/leftish intellectual), but we'll leave things at that.
The truly remarkable thing is that every single one of those four numbered claims is demonstrably false. Worse, they border idiocy.
This is gonna take time, so get comfy. There’s material enough for a series. We’ll deal first with Matt’s claims in succession. Then it'll be Bernstein's turn and we'll review his "really very good and very unjustly ignored" book.
The next post is about the literary executor thing. (God, give me strength!)