The Left and Democracy: The Triumph of Realo-Politik; Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 by Geoff Eley

By Berman, Sheri | Dissent, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Left and Democracy: The Triumph of Realo-Politik; Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 by Geoff Eley


Berman, Sheri, Dissent


"DEMOCRACY," Eduard Bernstein once said, "is both a means and end. It is a weapon in the struggle for socialism, and it is the form in which socialism will be realized." Although not quoted, this argument lies at the heart of Geoff Eley's massive new book Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000.

The main goal of Eley's book is to remind us of the centrality of the left in the struggle for democracy. He takes aim in particular at two views that continue to characterize much popular rhetoric and thinking about democratization: that liberalism and the bourgeoisie have historically been the "carriers" of democracy, and that it has generally emerged naturally alongside modern capitalism. In contrast, Eley argues that for the last 150 years or so it has been not the liberal middle classes but the socialist movement that has "most consistently ... held up the banner of democracy." And in Europe, he notes, "democracy did not result from natural evolution or economic prosperity. It certainly did not emerge as an inevitable by-product of individualism or the market. It developed because masses of people organized collectively to demand it."

The book's narrative covers three broad periods--the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the interwar years, and the postwar era--and describes a common pattern playing out in each, with mainstream left parties taking two steps forward in the political arena but falling one step back thanks to their timidity and neglect of social issues. The left's push for democracy really began in the 1860s, Eley notes, when a system of liberalized nation-states "solidified" and the "legal and constitutional conditions ... for popular democratic parties" were created. During this era the socialist movement turned its attention away from utopian communities, producer cooperatives, and the like and toward the national political arena, organizing the world's first modern, highly institutionalized political parties. These parties, in turn, enabled socialists to transform the economically and socially disadvantaged working classes into a potent political force. Eley documents how these parties struggled to force ancien regimes to accept full democratization--and "struggle" is indeed the right word, because in no European country was full democracy achieved without a fight. It took strikes, protests, and, most of all, persistent political organizing to get recalcitrant elites to recognize worker demands.

The battle, moreover, was not just against conservatives, Junkers, and other easy-to-de-monize political reactionaries, but often against liberals and the middle classes as well. The latter may have been eager to establish the rule of law and curb the power of monarchs and illiberal elites, but they were also fearful of the masses and wanted to protect the prerogatives that they enjoyed under the existing systems. As Eley notes, "liberals consistently disparaged the civic capacities of the masses, reaching a crescendo of fear during the 1848 revolutions and the first pan-European surge of popular enfranchisement during 1867-71. In liberal discourse, `the democracy' was synonymous with rule of the mob." Indeed, the struggle over democratization ended up dividing many liberal movements and alienating many of their erstwhile working-class supporters, thereby contributing to liberalism's declining fortunes in the decades before the First World War.

Eley argues that the mainstream left's focus during these years on national parliaments and democratization, however, led it to ignore or downplay issues that fell outside a traditional "class-political framework," such as those relating to gender, sexuality, family life, nationalism, and race. By slighting these social issues, he claims, socialists forced those concerned with them to form their own movements--movements that, in turn, pushed the boundaries of democracy forward.

The same process occurred after 1918, Eley contends, but this time with tragic results. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Left and Democracy: The Triumph of Realo-Politik; Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 by Geoff Eley
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.