The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Bernstein, Eduard (1850–1932)

  • Tom Bottomore
Reference work entry


Born in Berlin, 6 January 1850; died in Berlin, 18 December 1932. The son of a Jewish railway engineer and the seventh child in a large family of 15 children, Bernstein grew up in a lower middle-class district of Berlin in ‘genteel poverty’. He did not complete his studies at the Gymnasium, and in 1866 he began an apprenticeship in a Berlin bank. Three years later he became a bank clerk and remained in this post until 1878, but he continued to study independently and for a time aspired to work in the theatre. He became a socialist in 1871, largely through sympathy with the opposition of Bebel, Liebknecht and others to the Franco–Prussian war, and strongly influenced by reading Marx’s study of the Paris Commune, The Civil War in France (1871). In 1872 Bernstein joined the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, and in 1875 he was a delegate to the conference in Gotha which brought about the union of that party with Lassalle’s General Union of German Workers to form a new Socialist Workers’ party, later the Social Democratic Party (SDP). From that time Bernstein became a leading figure in the socialist movement, and in 1878, just before Bismarck’s anti-Socialist law was passed, he moved to Switzerland as secretary to a wealthy young socialist, Karl Höchberg, who expounded a form of utopian socialism in the journal Die Zukunft which he had founded. It was in 1878 also that Bernstein read Engels’s Anti-Dühring, which, he said, ‘converted me to Marxism’, and he corresponded with Engels for the first time in June 1879. After some misunderstandings with Marx and Engels, who were suspicious of his relationship with Höchberg, Bernstein won their confidence during a visit to London and in January 1881, with their support, he became editor of Der Sozialdemokrat (the newspaper of the SDP, established in 1879). It was, as Gay (1952) notes, ‘the beginning of a great career’.


Bernstein, E. Class Class conflict Engels, F. Kautsky, K. Marx, K. H. Social democracy Socialism Weber, M. Winstanley, G. 

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  1. Bottomore, T. 1985. Theories of modern capitalism. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  2. Gay, P. 1952. The dilemma of democratic socialism. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Luxemburg, R. 1899. Sozialreform oder revolution. Trans. as Reform or revolution. New York: Three Arrows, 1937.Google Scholar
  4. Schumpeter, J.A. 1942. Capitalism, socialism and democracy. 5th ed. London: Allen & Unwin. 1976.Google Scholar
  5. Weber, M. 1918. Socialism. English Trans. In Max weber the interpretation of social reality, ed. J.E.T. Eldridge. London: Michael Joseph, 1970.Google Scholar

Bibliographic Addendum

  1. A recent biography is Steger, M. The quest for evolutionary socialism: Eduard Bernstein and social democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tom Bottomore
    • 1
  1. 1.