Labriola was not alone in sensing this. In the issue of Die Neue Zeit in which, for the first time, he stated explicitly his disagreement with Bernstein, Kautsky observed that the political and economic changes of the past twenty years had revealed characteristics which were still hidden at the time of the Manifesto and Capital. 'A re-examination, a revision of our positions had therefore become necessary.' Even if he did not share the method, or results, which had hitherto emerged from Bernstein's articles, at least he granted them the merit of having posed the problem.
The state of unease and uncertainty in the face of the newly emerging situation was all the more acute for the incautious, credulous optimism of several years before. For the older generation it was complicated by the disarray caused by the recent loss of Engels's guidance. 'All this is only part of the difficulties which have burdened us through the death of Engels', Adler wrote to Bebel: 'the Old Man would also have made the "revision" easier, to the extent that it is needed'. Shortly after, in a letter to Kautsky, he added: 'You [Bernstein and Kautsky himself] should both have done this work, which was or rather still is needed, to bring the party up from the 1847 viewpoint to that of 1900.'
In the course of a few years, then, the economic and social situation emerged in a new light; what had shortly before seemed the immediate prelude to the 'final crisis' now unexpectedly assumed the profile of a new epoch. As always, at moments of crossing a critical watershed, minor differences between closely related positions are enough to reveal globally different outlooks. In 1895, in the Introduction to the new edition of The Class Struggles in France, Engels optimistically saw capitalism moving ineluctably towards its rapid decline 'by the end of the century', while the rise of Social Democracy to power seemed to proceed 'as spontaneously, as steadily, as irresistibly and at the same time as tranquilly as a natural process'. Everything, in short, seemed to conspire towards the
imminent ruin of the existing order, even the 'legality' the bourgeoisie had provided for itself. In 1896, on the other hand, we are confronted by Bernstein's doubts, 'disappointment' and confusion; by now he could only see the 'tactics', the everyday routine of the 'movement', and no longer saw the meaning of the 'final goal' (das Endziel ).
Both perceived the same phenomena, both recorded the birth of cartels and trusts. But in their arguments, these same phenomena acquired radically opposed significances. In the long note, already discussed, which Engels inserted in Marx's treatment of joint-stock companies in the third volume of Capital, he wrote of 'new forms of industrial enterprises . . . representing the second and third degree of stock companies'. In each country, he wrote, 'the big industrialists of a certain branch [join] together in a cartel for the regulation of production. A committee fixes the quantity to be produced by each establishment and is the final authority for distributing the incoming orders. Occasionally, even international cartels were established, as between English and German iron industries.'For Engels this monopolistic cartelization and resultant 'regulation' of production was the final process of involution, the imminent extinction of the system, the 'bankruptcy' of free competition as the basic principle of the capitalist system. Bernstein, on the contrary, as Kautsky acutely observed, overlooked cartels when they spoke in confirmation of the real occurrence of capitalist concentration, and hence 'to Marx's advantage', only referring to them where they could serve as evidence 'against' Marx. In his view, cartels and the slight degree of 'regulation' of production they allowed signified the opposite: the advent of a new, so to speak, regenerated capitalism which had learned to correct its old faults (anarchy) by 'regulating itself' and hence was capable of indefinite survival.
This difference of viewpoints stems essentially from a different perception of the historical moment. In this respect, in his awareness that times were changing, it must be conceded that Bernstein was in advance of Engels, Kautsky and all the rest. His advantage and strength lay in his consciousness that he was facing a new historical situation. His actual attempt to cast light on the phenomena of the most recent capitalist development was irrelevant from a scientific standpoint, but this foresight explains why it is that, despite the archaism of so much of his argument, he nonetheless appears in some respects -- in his prompt intuition of the new course of development, obviously, rather than in the interpretation he gave of it -- nearer to the generation of a Lenin and a Hilferding than to that of a Kautsky and a Plekhanov. Stock companies, the development of cartels and trusts, the separation of 'ownership' and 'control', the growing 'socialization of production', the 'democratization of capital', etc., all themes which are central to Bernstein's argument, are also the themes of Hilferding's Finance Capital and Lenin's Imperialism. That is why the most effective answers to Bernstein can be found in these texts.
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17 Kautsky, Das Erfurter Programm, op. cit, pp. 106, 136.
18 M. Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, London, 1947, pp. 300 ff. For bibliographical references and quantitative information (arranged by topics: employment, investment, prices, etc.) see S. G. E. Lythe, British Economic History Since 1760, London, 1950.
19 Marx, Capital, Vol. III, p. 428.
20 G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History, London, 1946, p. 557. 'The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 was the first shock. And during the three following decades America and Germany rose as manufacturing powers rival to our own. The immensely greater natural resources of America, the scientific and technical education provided by the far-sighted governments in Germany, told more and more every year. To meet this new situation, our island liberty, Free Trade and individualist self-help might not alone be enough. Some sense of this led to improved technical education over here. It led, also, to greater interest in our own 'lands beyond the sea', the Imperialist movement of the nineties; and it induced a more friendly and respectful attitude to America . . . and "the Colonies", as Canada and Australasia were still called.'
21 F. Engels' Briefwechsel mit K Kautsky, op. cit., pp. 174-5. Kautsky's Commentary on the letters dates from 1935.
22 W. W. Rostow, 'Investment and the Great Depression' in Economic History Review, May 1938, p. 158 (cited by Dobb, op. cit., p. 312), observes that capitalists 'began to search for an escape (from narrower profit-margins) in the ensured foreign markets of positive imperialism, in tariffs, monopolies, employers' associations'.
23 R. Hilferding, Das Finanzkapital, Berlin, 1955, p. 460.
24 Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in Selected Works, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 737.
25 Letter from Labriola to Lagardelle, 15 April 1899, in Antonio Labriola, Saggi sul Materialismo storico, Rome, 1964, p. 302.
26 Dobb, op. cit., p. 300.
27 cf. L. Amodio in Rosa Luxemburg, Scritti scelti, Milan, 1963, p. 137. This feeling explains the favourable, even sympathetic reception accorded to Bernstein's articles in Die Neue Zeit. Even in November 1898, after the Stockholm Congress in which Bernstein's theses were rejected by the German Social Democratic Party, Labriola, for example, showed a sympathetic consideration for them (cf. G. Procacci, 'Antonio Labriola e la revisione del marxismo attraverso l'epistolario con Bernstein e con Kautsky' in Annali dell' Instituto G. G. Feltrinelli, 1960, Milan, 1961, p. 268). Besides, as V. Gerratana has shown in his introduction to Labriola, Del Materialismo storico, Rome, 1964, p. 11, n. 1, even Lenin at first did not realize the significance of Bernstein's articles (cf. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 34, pp. 35-6 [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's letter of 27 April 1899 "To A. N. Potresov". -- DJR]).
28 V. Adler, op. cit., p. 268. 29 ibid., p. 352.
Marx, Capital, Vol. III, p. 428.
31 Kautsky, Bernstein und das sozialdemokratische
Programm, op. cit., p. 80.