The Left and Democracy

The Left and Democracy

Forging Democracy: The History of The Left in Europe, 1850-2000 by Geoff Eley

Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000
by Geoff Eley
Oxford University Press, 2002, 720 pp., $35.00


“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.”


Sheri BermanĀ is a Senior Visiting Fellow, Remarque Institute, New York University and author of the forthcoming: The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Ideological Dynamics of the Twentieth Century.


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