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Reformism refers to political doctrines aimed at improving existing structures of a country, economic and social, through gradual changes in laws rather than through revolution or schism.

Reformist socialism was defined by Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932) who considered that the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism would be achieved not by revolution but by a series of reforms. Although the term reformism itself was originally used within Marxism , it is also used today in relation to liberalism and fascism .

In 1959, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) assumed its “reformist” line by breaking with Marxism at its congress in Bad Godesberg. Currently, most of those who claim reformism aim at the peaceful and democratic seizure of power by the left and rely on the law to bring about social transformation within the framework of capitalism. They can nevertheless still claim the original aim of reformism, which was to overcome capitalism within the framework of democratic elections.

In France, reformism began to be theorized by Jean Jaurès, then by Léon Blum, although these two socialists called themselves at the same time revolutionary and reformist, even “reformist-revolutionary” by Jean Jaurès. These two members of the SFIO then called themselves revolutionaries and anti-capitalists. Léon Blum differentiates in 1936 “exercise of power” (following an electoral victory), and “conquest of power” (which can lead to socialism).

In Canada, the term “reformists” refers to the group of French-Canadian intellectuals who, following the failure of the rebellions of 1837-1838 and the authoritarian reaction of the British government, sought to continue to advance the interests of the French Canadians and to change their society by strictly political and peaceful means (Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, George-Étienne Cartier).


Although reformist-socialist organizations already existed in Great Britain with the Chartists and the Fabian Society , Eduard Bernstein is considered the founder of theoretical reformism in Germany and Austria. In his work The Prerequisites of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy, he subjected the existing Marxian theory to a radical critique and advocated the transformation of the SPD into an exclusively reformist party.

As a result, a reformist right-wing of the party was formed, which accepted these demands, initially opposed by a centrist majority. The revolutionary wing of the party around Rosa Luxemburg remained meaningless until the Spartacus League was formed.

After 1918, reformism became the dominant current within social democracy, so that in the present the terms are largely used interchangeably.


The majority of all liberal movements in nineteenth-century Europe were reformist in the sense that they sought to transform the then absolute monarchies into constitutional monarchies through reforms. However, there was no formation of a concept for the designation of reformist liberals in contrast to revolutionary liberals, since these, unlike the Socialists, maintained no common parties. The revolutionary liberals called themselves “republicans” ( France ), “radicals” ( Britain and Switzerland ) or “democrats”(Germany). The term “liberal”, on the other hand, implicitly included a reformist sentiment. This traditional terminology has been retained in the respective countries.

In Prussia , reformist and revolutionary liberals for a time formed a joint party, the DFP. However, this should split into the right-liberal-reformist NLP and the left-liberal, initially (still) revolutionary-minded DtVP on the question of whether Otto von Bismarck ‘s unification policy should be supported or opposed .


After the failure of the Hitler Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Adolf Hitler decided to follow Benito Mussolini ‘s example and abandon his original plans to seize power by force using the NSDAP ‘s Sturmabteilung . He expressed this attitude in 1930 as follows:

“The National Socialist movement will try to achieve the goal in this state with the constitutional means. The constitution only prescribes the methods, not the goal. In this constitutional way, we will try to gain the decisive majorities in the legislative bodies, so that the moment we succeed, we can cast the state in the forms that correspond to our ideas.”

As a result, a party wing based on Hitler’s legality tactics formed around the same and Joseph Goebbels , as well as a revolutionary party wing, around Ernst Röhm and Gregor Strasser .

In the same way, the Italian PNF had previously reorganized itself in a reformist manner. The Japanese Kōdō-ha should also realign their behavior in a reformist way in response to the failure of the “Ni-niroku jiken” coup.

Includes texts from Wikipedia with license CC BY-SA 3.0, translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu

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