Revolutionary socialism

Revolutionary socialism

The term revolutionary socialism refers to Socialist tendencies that advocate the need for fundamental social change through revolution, as a strategy to achieve a socialist society. The term is used by socialist and communist tendencies in contrast to reformism, the advocacy of the possibility of gradual change as a means of achieving socialism or of ameliorating capitalism.


From 1896 to 1898 Eduard Bernstein, one of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), published a series of articles entitled "Probleme des Sozialismus" ("Problems of Socialism"). These articles led to a debate on revisionism in the SPD.

In 1900, Rosa Luxemburg wrote "Social Reform or Revolution", a polemic against Bernstein's position. The work of reforms, Luxemburg argued, could only be carried on, "in the framework of the social form created by the last revolution". In order to advance society to socialism from the capitalist 'social form', a social revolution will be necessary:

Vladimir Lenin attacked Bernstein’s position in his "What is to be Done". When Bernstein first put forward his ideas the majority of the SPD rejected them. The 1899 Congress of the SPD reaffirmed the Erfurt programme, as did the 1901 congress. The 1903 congress denounced "revisionist efforts".

The First World War and Zimmerwald

However on 4 August 1914 the SPD members of the Reichstag voted for the government’s war budget, while the French and Belgium socialists publicly supported their governments. Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, together with a small number of other Marxists opposed to the war, came together in the Zimmerwald Conference in September 1915. This conference saw the beginning of the end of the uneasy coexistence of revolutionary socialists (communists) and reformist socialists (social democrats) in the Second International. The conference adopted a proposal by Trotsky to avoid an immediate split with the Second International. At first opposed to it, in the end Lenin voted [See Christian Rakovsky's [ biography] by Gus Fagan for details] for Trotsky's resolution to avoid a split among anti-war socialists.

In December, 1915 and March, 1916, eighteen Social Democratic representatives, the Haase-Ledebour Group, voted against war credits, and were expelled from the Social Democratic Party. Liebknecht wrote "Revolutionary Socialism in Germany" in 1916, arguing that this group was not a revolutionary socialist group, despite their refusal to vote for war credits, further defining, in his view, what was meant by a revolutionary socialist. [ [ Liebknecht, Karl, "Revolutionary Socialism in Germany", 1916] , accessed 1 July 2007]

The Russian revolution of 1917 and after

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Third International was founded. This International became widely identified with Communism, but also defined itself in terms of revolutionary socialism.

Emerging from the Communist International, but critical of the post-1924 Soviet Union, the Trotskyist tradition in Western Europe and elsewhere uses the term 'revolutionary socialism'. For instance, in 1932, the first issue of the first Canadian Trotskyist newspaper, "The Vanguard", published an editorial, "Revolutionary Socialism vs Reformism". [ [ "Socialist History Project"] , accessed 1 July 2007] Today, many Trotskyist groups advocate "revolutionary socialism" as opposed to reformism, and are considered, and consider themselves, "revolutionary socialists". [For instance, the Committee for a Workers International states, "We campaign for new workers’ parties and for them to adopt a socialist programme. At the same time, the CWI builds support for the ideas of revolutionary socialism" [] and the UK Socialist Workers Party’s Alex Callinicos argues "The Case for Revolutionary Socialism", [] . ]
Luxemburgism is another revolutionary socialist tradition.

Some revolutionaries outside of the Marxist tradition, such as libertarian socialists, have described themselves as revolutionary socialists.


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