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a. a moderate, nonrevolutionary version of Marxism developed in Germany around 1900
b. (in Marxist-Leninist ideology) any dangerous departure from the true interpretation of the teachings of Karl Marx, the German founder of modern Communism (1818--83)
2. an ultra-nationalist form of Zionism that arose in Palestine in the 1940s
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


any attempts by socialist thinkers to reappraise and revise the revolutionary ideas of MARX in the light of changed economic and social conditions. The most famous of all revisionists was the German Social Democrat Eduard BERNSTEIN. In the late 1890s he argued that most of Marx's economic theory and predictions for the future had been disproved by new developments in the capitalist system. As a result: ‘Peasants do not sink; the middle class does not disappear; crises do not grow even larger; misery and serfdom do not increase’. Bernstein concluded that ‘the final aim’ of the labour movement was unimportant. What was really crucial were the day-to-day battles to win improvements for workers living under capitalism. Socialism could only be achieved through a process of gradual and peaceful evolution entailing parliamentary reforms rather than violent working-class revolution. In the 1960s, there was an upsurge of revisionist ideas in many Western European Communist parties (see also EUROCOMMUNISM).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the antiscientific revision of the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. An opportunist trend within the revolutionary working-class movement that, under the pretext of creatively assimilating new phenomena, revises the basic tenets of Marxist theory, which have been confirmed in practice.

A distinction is made between revisionism from the right, which substitutes bourgeois reformist views for the tenets of Marxism, and revisionism “from the left,” which introduces anarchist, Blanquist, or voluntarist views. Revisionism emerged as a result of petit bourgeois and bourgeois influence on the revolutionary working-class movement. In its class nature, it is one of the forms of ideology of the petite bourgeoisie, worker aristocracy, and other middle strata. Revisionism reflects the social position of these groups, which are ambivalent by nature, identifying at one moment with the working class and at another with the bourgeoisie. Its social function is to transmit bourgeois influences into the revolutionary workers’ movement. The methodological basis of revisionism is an eclectic mixture of subjectivism, dogmatism, and mechanistic materialism. Revisionist methodology is also schematic and one-sided.

Revisionism arose in the late 1870’s in the German Social Democratic Party, which had accepted Marxism. In 1879, K. Höchberg, E. Bernstein, and K. Schramm proposed a revision of the basic tenets of revolutionary theory. Marx and Engels, in a special letter, known as the circular letter, addressed to A. Bebel, W. Liebknecht, W. Bracke, and other Social Democrats, gave a definitive rebuttal to this first foray of the revisionists. Revisionism became a political tendency only after the death of Marx and Engels, in the late 1890’s, when Bernstein came out with his full-fledged program for the revision of Marxism, thereby giving his name to the trend. The early 20th century saw the spread of revisionism in the Social Democratic movements of Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and other countries. Among its exponents were K. Kautsky, O. Bauer, E. Vandervelde, P. Scheidemann, K. Legien, S. Prokopovich, L. Martov, and L. Trotsky.

In the late 19th century and the early 20th the revisionists proposed a reexamination of all the fundamental elements of Marx’ doctrine. In philosophy the revisionists refused to acknowledge the scientific nature of dialectical materialism and sought to combine scientific socialism with the views of Kant, Berkeley, and Mach. In economic theory they cited recent data on economic development as proof that the replacement of small-scale production by large-scale production had slowed down and that in agriculture the process was not occurring at all. They also asserted that trusts and cartels enabled capitalism to avoid crises and that it was unrealistic to expect the collapse of capitalism since there was a marked tendency toward the easing of its contradictions.

In the political sphere the revisionists regarded as absolutes certain new phenomena in social life, thereby revising the Marxist doctrine of the class struggle and its aims—the overthrow of bourgeois rule, the establishment of workers’ power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the building of socialism and communism. They declared that political freedom, democracy, and universal suffrage obviated the need for class struggle. The task of the working-class movement, according to the revisionists, was to struggle for partial reforms in the capitalist system. “‘The movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing’—this catch-phrase of Bernstein’s,” wrote Lenin, “expresses the substance of revisionism better than many long disquisitions” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17, p. 24).

In the early 20th century, along with right-wing revisionism, revisionism from the left appeared and spread in the Latin countries as “revolutionary syndicalism.” Lenin noted that left-wing revisionism was “also adapting itself to Marxism, ‘amending’ it” (ibid., p. 25).

A profound and scientific critique of revisionism was given by Lenin. Thorough and reliable critiques are also found in the works of G. V. Plekhanov, R. Luxemburg, K. Liebknecht, F. Mehring, and C. Zetkin.

After the collapse of the Second International in 1914 as a result of the growth of opportunism, the working-class movement was split into a social-reformist right wing and a revolutionary left wing, which subsequently developed into the international communist movement. After the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917, both right-wing revisionism (the right deviation in some communist parties) and left-wing revisionism (“left-wing communism”) appeared in the international communist movement in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s. A concerted effort was made within the communist movement to revise Marxism-Leninism in the 1950’s. Making unscrupulous use of the new postwar phenomena and processes that had not yet been given a scientific Marxist explanation, as well as of certain difficulties in the development of the communist movement, right-wing revisionism spread widely in the late 1950’s. Among those who tried to deflect the revolutionary workers’ movement onto the road of social reformism were H. Lefebvre and P. Hervé in France, J. Gates and A. Bittelman in the USA, A. Giolitti in Italy, M. Djilas in Yugoslavia, R. Zimand and L. Kotakowski in Poland, and E. Bloch in the German Democratic Republic. Especially dangerous was the revisionist group around I. Nagy and G. Losonczy, which paved the way for the Counterrevolutionary Revolt of 1956 in Hungary.

The Declaration of the 1957 Conference of Representatives of the Communist and Workers’ Parties of the Socialist Countries stated that “modern revisionism seeks to discredit the great doctrine of Marxism-Leninism by declaring that it is ‘outdated’ and has lost its relevance for social development. Today the revisionists seek to destroy the revolutionary spirit of Marxism and to undermine the faith of the working class and of all working people in socialism. They oppose the historical necessity of a proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the transition from capitalism to socialism, deny the directing role of the Marxist-Leninist party, reject the principles of proletarian internationalism,, call for the abandonment of the basic Leninist principles of party building, primarily democratic centralism, and seek to transform the Communist Party from a revolutionary combat organization into some sort of discussion club” (Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm, Moscow, 1961, p. 15). The international communist movement condemned right-wing revisionism as the chief danger, made a thoroughgoing critique of it, and gradually cleansed its ranks of any active supporters of revisionism.

During the 1960’s and early 1970’s revisionism from the left appeared in the communist movement. Maoism—a petit bourgeois, chauvinistic, anti-Soviet doctrine—has made extensive use of left-wing revisionist ideology. On the theoretical plane, Maoism has revised all the basic elements of Marxism-Leninism. It represents an unprincipled, eclectic combination of a number of vulgarized Marxist concepts, Trotskyism, and nationalism. Among those who held right-wing revisionist views in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were O. Šik and I. Sviták in Czechoslovakia, R. Garaudy in France, and E. Fischer and F. Marek in Austria.

On the methodological level, contemporary right-wing revisionism opposes Marxist-Leninist doctrine on all points. It rejects the necessity of revolution and asserts that capitalism should be reformed, claiming that the modern scientific and technological revolution is totally reshaping the structure of society and “erasing” class antagonisms. This transformation supposedly is leading to the humanistic rebirth of capitalism, the integration of the working class into the capitalist system, and the working class’ loss of its revolutionary traditions, as well as its former leading role, which now passes to the intellectuals. The right-wing revisionists claim that “stagnation” has affected the gains of socialism, and they demand the “humanization” of socialism, the establishment of “socialism with a human face.” Such slogans are reflected in the calls for a relaxation of government control of the economy and for allowing the “free play of political forces” and the “rotation of parties in power”—essentially a return to bourgeois democracy. Right-wing revisionism argues for a multiplicity of fundamentally different “socialist models” and for Marxist pluralism.

The international revolutionary working-class and communist movement is conducting a determined struggle against revisionism of both the right and left because revisionism seeks to disarm the working class ideologically and to instill among workers reformist or anarchist views.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. A. Bebeliu, V. Libknekhtu, V. Brakke i dr. (Tsirkuliarnoe pis’mo) ot 17–18 sent. 1879 g. (Letter.) Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19.
Lenin, V. I. “Marksizm i revizionizm.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 17. Lenin, V. I. “Raznoglasiia v evropeiskom rabochem dvizhenii.” Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Istoricheskie sud’by ucheniia Karla Marksa.” Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Krakh II Internatsionala.” Ibid., vol. 26.
Lenin, V. I. Detskaia bolezn’ “levizny’’ v kommunizme. Ibid., vol. 41.
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1961.
Mezhdunarodnoe soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy. Moscow, 1969.
Protiv sovremennogo revizionizma. Moscow, 1958.
Butenko, A. P. Osnovnye cherty sovremennogo revizionizma. Moscow, 1959.
Butenko, A. P. “Reformizm i pravoopportunisticheskii revizionizm.” In Ideologiia sovremennogo reformizma. Moscow, 1970.
Marksizm-leninizm—edinoe internatsional’noe uchenie, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1968–69.
Mazur, V. N. Revizionizm vchera i segodnia. Kiev, 1973.
Sovremennyi pravyi revizionizm. Moscow-Prague, 1973.


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