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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the transformation, modification, or restructuring of an aspect of society, such as systems, institutions, or establishments, without destroying the foundation of the existing social structure. From a formal point of view, reform subsumes any kind of innovation. In political practice and theory, however, “reform” usually refers to a more or less progressive transformation, or a step toward improvement (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 15, p. 107).

To the extent that in a class antagonistic society reform has the forced quality of a concession by the ruling class to its class enemy, reform is ambivalent in its content and in its influence on social processes. On the one hand, reform is a real step forward. It improves the condition of the working people in some respect, serving as the precondition for their further struggle. On the other hand, reform may be “a preventative reaction, i.e., a measure to prevent the ruling classes from falling” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 7, p. 209). To maintain their power, the ruling classes agree to reforms, intending to weaken the pressure of the revolutionary forces and channel it into ordinary reformism. The contradictory character of reform is confirmed, for example, by the entire history of social legislation under capitalism. In the developed bourgeois countries the organized struggle of the working class resulted in a series of reforms that improved the condition of the working people, opening new possibilities for the struggle against the monopolies and imperialism. At the same time, the successes of the working-class movement were accompanied by the growth of reformist illusions and the expansion of the influence of the Social Democrats. The Communist parties support the direct, immediate demands of the working people and advocate their pursuing their struggle until they achieve a revolutionary restructuring of society.

The relationship between reform and revolution is one of the most important theoretical and practical problems of the international working-class movement and of the world revolutionary process as a whole. In principle, the reformist approach differs from the revolutionary approach in that power remains in the hands of the ruling class after reforms, whereas a revolution results in the transfer of power to a new class. Bearing in mind this distinction, Lenin wrote: “The concept ‘reform’ is undoubtedly the opposite of the concept ‘revolution’. Failure to remember this contrast, failure to remember the line that divides these two concepts, constantly leads to very serious mistakes…. But this contrast is not something absolute, this line is not something dead, but alive and changing, and one must be able to define it in each particular case” (ibid., vol. 20, p. 167).

Lenin struggled against the reformists and the revisionists, who “forget” the boundary between reform and revolution, and against the dogmatists and sectarians, who counterpose reform to revolution in a metaphysical way and underestimate the role of the struggle for reform. The significance of reform in the revolutionary process depends on a complex intertwining of objective and subjective factors, the most important of which is the relation of class forces on an international level and within each country. Depending on the character of the relation of class forces, either of two main types of revolutionary transformations may take place: peaceful or nonpeaceful. Reforms play substantially different roles under peaceful and nonpeaceful revolutions.

In the context of the nonpeaceful development of revolution, the role and significance of reforms are described precisely by Lenin’s formula: “reforms [are] a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat” (ibid., vol. 15, p. 108). In practical terms, this means that the working class and its party are oriented toward the direct realization of radical political and socioeconomic transformations. The struggle for various reforms is primarily a means of training the revolutionary political army, creating and strengthening class organizations, and inculcating proletarian consciousness. If the revolution triumphs, reforms are carried out as its “by-products”; if the revolution is deféated, the character and significance of the concessions wrested from the ruling class depend on the scope and depth of the revolutionary struggle.

Under contemporary conditions, the approach to the relationship between reform and revolution elaborated in Lenin’s works and in the documents of the Comintern has practical significance for countries where the development of the revolution is most likely to take a nonpeaceful course. However, in view of the strategy of a peaceful transition to socialism, which has been established in the documents of the international communist movement, the documents of the fraternal parties, and the Program of the CPSU, the formula of reform as a by-product of revolution no longer reflects all the characteristics of the contemporary revolutionary process. The Program of the CPSU states: “Under contemporary historical conditions, the working class of many countries is able, even before the overthrow of capitalism, to compel the bourgeoisie to carry out measures that go beyond the limits of ordinary reforms and that are of vital significance for the working class, for the development of its struggle for the victory of the revolution, for socialism, and for the majority of the nation” (1975, p. 37).

The peaceful path to socialism presupposes a series of transitional stages, intermediate measures, and, in Lenin’s words, “combined types” of economic and political organization, by means of which the power of the monopolies is limited, the antimonopoly coalition is strengthened, and changes are made in the social structure. The struggle for these profound reforms, which are referred to as structural reforms in the documents of a number of Communist parties, including the Italian, the Austrian, and the Brazilian, serves as an important means of activating the masses and gradually undermining the position of the ruling class. Thus, the struggle for structural reforms is a special form of the revolutionary process. Reforms of this type, which go beyond ordinary reforms, are considered to be a collection of gradual, fundamental transformations that do not “introduce” socialism but that directly affect the foundations of the capitalist system, opening prospects for socialism.

The peaceful approach to socialism differs in principle from reformism because the Communists do not sever the struggle for reform from the struggle for political power and for its use in implementing fundamental revolutionary transformations. In this respect, the Communists’ policy means that one does not wait passively for a revolutionary situation but struggles continuously for democratic goals, the achievement of which results in a strengthening of socialist forces and creates the basis for a comparatively peaceful seizure of power by the working class. When events follow this course of development, reform is an essential element of the revolutionary process—the practical expression of the combination of the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism.

With the victory of socialism, the counterposition of reform and revolution is eliminated forever. In the absence of class antagonisms, improvements in social relations are made by means of more or less continuous change, by reforming the existing system.


Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo ‘Severnomu Soiuzu RSDRP.’” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Eshche o dumskom ministerstve.” Ibid., vol. 13.
Lenin, V. I. “Itogi vyborov.” Ibid., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “Vozrastaiushchee nesootvetstvie.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Marksizm i reformizm.” Ibid., vol. 24.
Lenin, V. I. “O znachenii zolota teper’ i posle polnoi pobedy sotsializma.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1964.
Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1969.
Krasin, Iu. A. Lenin, revoliutsiia, sovremennost’: Problemy leninskoi teorii sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii. Moscow, 1967.
Mezhdunarodnoe kommunisticheskoe dvizhenie: Ocherk strategii i taktiki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1972.
Leninskaia teoriia sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii i sovremennost’. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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