I have come across a very interesting paper by Terrence McDonough and Robert Drago with the absurdly long title, “Crises of Capitalism and the First Crisis of Marxism: A Theoretical Note on the Bernstein-Kautsky Debate“. The paper tries to get a handle on the link between the capitalist recovery from the first “Great Depression” (what some today call “The Long Depression“) at the end of the 19th century and the first crisis among the Marxist leaders of the Second International.
According to McDonough and Drago, Marxists at the turn of the 20th century were not prepared for the recovery that welcomed the dawning of the 20th century. This unexpected recovery of capitalism, the authors argue, triggered the crisis sometimes referred to as the rise of Bernstein revisionism:
“The Marxists of the Second International had no concepts with which to handle the Phoenix-flight of capitalism that they were experiencing. The Second International had developed a somewhat mechanical view of Marxism and the world. All phenomena were seen as an expression of certain laws inherent in the nature of matter. This notion was transferred to the analysis of the capitalist economy. Marx’s tendencies became laws analagous to the laws of physics. This included Marx’s observations about capitalism’s tendency toward crisis (Colletti 1972). Such a view was unable to explain capitalist recovery from long-term crisis. The crisis of Marxism was, in the last analysis, a product of the recovery from the Great Depression.”
Whether this explanation make sense is of no concern to me. I am not in the habit of trying to trace purely contingent political events back to their economic causes. Mostly it is a fool’s errand in my opinion.