"'The Natural Leader of the Proletariat': Eduard Bernstein on Trade Unions and the Path to Socialist Cooperation" History of European Ideas 50, no. 3 (2024):

Abstract: This article offers a reinterpretation of Eduard Bernstein’s theory of evolutionary socialism. It does so by examining the leading role that he envisioned for unions of skilled workers in the socialist movement. During his time in London in the 1890s, Bernstein’s engagement with English Fabianism led him to emphasize the proletariat’s differentiated nature. He claimed skilled workers most readily organized and became the first proletarians to develop class consciousness. Unskilled workers, on the other hand, remained largely unorganized and estranged from the socialist movement. Bernstein opposed the socialist political strategy of nationalization because it would subordinate unskilled workers to party revolutionaries rather than realize cooperative self-government in industry. This focus on promoting industrial self-government made Bernstein stress the importance of workers’ further unionization and adoption of skilled unionists’ method of collective bargaining. This would produce socialist cooperation because it facilitated cooperative wage determination. In Bernstein’s view, skilled unionists influenced the socialist party to take political action to organize and elevate more proletarians to class consciousness. In contrast to those who claim Bernstein prioritized the party’s autonomous ethical appeals and legislation, I emphasize his focus on union-party interactions and defense of unions as central for the advance to socialism’s cooperative society.