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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Historically, “Revisionism” was the name given to
the main heresy which arose in European, and particu-
larly German, Marxism and Social Democracy in the
time of the Second International (1889-1914). Its origi-
nator was Eduard Bernstein, who also gave the most
systematic exposition of its theoretical content. The
main thesis of this theory was that the catastrophic
collapse of capitalist society, predicted by Marx, was
unlikely to take place; from this it followed that Social
Democrats should alter their political strategy away
from revolutionary and towards evolutionary methods.
After the October Revolution and the emergence of
Moscow as the center of World Communism, Revi-
sionism lost most of its original content, degenerated
into a term of abuse, and was largely superseded by
other pejorative labels. Only after the Second World
War, with the appearance of new divisions in the
World Communist Movement, did Revisionism regain
any consistent meaning. Still remaining a term of
abuse, it was used by the soi-disant “orthodox” Marxists
to qualify those of their opponents who could at all
plausibly (if sometimes unjustly) be embarrassed by the
accusation of accommodation with bourgeois society
or its extension, imperialism. Even here, however,
consistency was not long maintained. With the emer-
gence of Sino-Soviet differences into a full-scale politi-
cal and ideological dispute, not only did the Chinese
accuse the Russians of “Revisionism” on the grounds
of compromise with imperialism, but Soviet ideologists,
who normally accepted this meaning of the word
(without, of course, admitting that it could apply to
themselves), also described the doctrines of Mao Tse-
tung and his followers as “left” Revisionism.

By the 1890's German Social Democracy was in a
position to offer both the institutional stability and the
ideological rigidity which are the necessary soil on
which any heresy must be bred. These two aspects of
German Social Democracy were closely linked. As an
institution, it had grown inside, but isolated from,
German society of the time; the revolutionary ideology
maintained and justified the isolation. Bernstein's per-
ception that certain points of the analysis of society
contained in the ideology were apparently at variance
with reality therefore had serious implications for the
German Party as a whole. In 1890 the adoption of the
Erfurt Program by the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei
) crystallized its ideology as revolutionary
Marxism, and provided a canon of theoretical ortho-
doxy. At the same time the Party's organizational suc-
cess in a generally prosperous economy enabled its
leaders to forget the contradiction between their revo-
lutionary doctrine and their increasingly reformist
practice. It took a man as uncomfortably honest and
persistent as Eduard Bernstein to remind them of this
contradiction. His views first reached the public in a
series of articles in the Neue Zeit in 1896-98, and were
presented in book form under the title Die Voraus-
setzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozi-
in 1899 (trans. as Evolutionary Socialism,
1909). Although the systematization of these views
possibly owes more to Bernstein's critics than to him-


self, they may conveniently be considered under the
headings of social development, economics, philoso-
phy, and politics.

Social Development. The Erfurt Program had faith-
fully reflected the classic Marxist belief that capitalist
society was moving towards an even greater polariza-
tion between the propertied and propertyless classes.
Capital was becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer
hands; the middle class was disappearing; the prole-
tariat, and its recruits from the impoverished middle
class, faced “misery, oppression, servitude, degradation
and exploitation.” The whole process was furthered by
periodic industrial crises, and would culminate in the
“collapse” of the capitalist system and a violent revo-
lution. Very soon after the Erfurt Congress, however,
academic economists such as F. G. Schulze-Gävernitz
and Julius Wolf began to observe that this prospect
was unlikely to be fulfilled. At first Bernstein tried to
refute their arguments, but a few years later found
himself forced to agree with much of what they said.
Was the Marxist view correct? “Well,” said Bernstein,
“yes and no” (Bernstein [1909], p. 41). The growth of
concentration and monopoly could be accepted “as a
tendency”—indeed many of Marx's theses, such as the
falling rate of profit, overproduction, and crises, etc.,
were empirically observable facts; but strong social
forces existed which falsified Marx's general picture
of society polarized into two bitterly embattled classes.
Bernstein pointed out, with a wealth of statistics from
Germany and England, that although large-sized en-
terprises were increasing in numbers faster than others,
the numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises
were not decreasing but increasing also. There was no
tendency for the middle class to disappear; indeed the
number of propertied persons was actually growing.
Similarly, when it came to the theory of crises and
collapse—the other main plank in Marx's prediction
of revolution—Bernstein agreed that crises were an
inherent feature of capitalism, but noted that they had
become rarer, shorter, and milder.

Moreover, as with the development of class rela-
tionships, Bernstein attributed this phenomenon to the
emergence in capitalism of certain counter-trends—the
growth of the world market, improvements in trans-
portation and communication, more flexible credit
systems, and the rise of cartels—which made it un-
likely, in his view, that “at least for a long time, general
commercial crises similar to the earlier ones” would
occur (ibid., p. 80).

Economics. These criticisms of Marxist theory were
based mainly on empirical data, and their validity
depended in good part on the time scale to which the
theory was related. But Bernstein also tackled what
many regarded as the central doctrine of Marxist eco
nomics—the labor theory of value and surplus value.
Bernstein's discussion of this theory did little more than
hint at a synthesis of the Marxist and increasingly
accepted marginalist versions of value theory, and he
concluded by treating the concept of value more as
an abstract tool of analysis than a fact of the real world.
Surplus value, however, he regarded as “a fact demon-
strated in experience”; while denying that the rate of
exploitation was directly related to the rate of surplus
value, Bernstein emphasized that exploitation was in-
deed a feature of capitalism (ibid., pp. 28-40).

Philosophy. Bernstein's treatment of value theory
removed one of the central “scientific” tenets of Marx-
ism from the picture; to replace it he called in ethics
and empiricism. This ethical and empirical bent in
Bernstein is most clearly visible in his philosophical
views. Instead of the Hegelian dialectic (which Marx
claimed to have “stood on its feet”) with its revolu-
tionary implications, Bernstein believed that the true
philosophical kernel of Marxism was evolution. The
dialectic he described as a “snare” (Gay [1952], p. 135),
which had led Marx into “historical self-deception.”
Overemphasis on the dialectical struggle of opposites
had, in Bernstein's view, resulted in an unwarranted
insistence on violent revolution. Class antagonisms
would persist, but would diminish; the transition to
socialism would come as a result of work within the
State, rather than by intransigeant opposition to it (ibid.,
p. 137). A further departure from the “scientific” spirit
of Marxism is found in Bernstein's attempt to modify
Marx's determinism—an attempt which did little more
than suggest that Marx had been in some way too
determinist, and that Engels had later departed from
the previous extremism of his and Marx's earlier defini-
tion. Bernstein did not question that the economic
factor—the forces and relations of production—were
“an ever recurring decisive force, the cardinal point
of the great movements of history” (Bernstein [1909],
p. 17), and indeed proposed to replace the term “ma-
terialist conception of history” by “economic inter-
pretation of history”; but he tried to restore to ideol-
ogy, and hence to idealistic and ethical motives in men,
some of the independence of which they had been
deprived by Marxism. This meant no less than the
reintroduction of ethics into the causal chain leading
to socialism.

When Rosa Luxemburg, one of Bernstein's chief
critics in the SPD, accused him of surrendering the
“immanent economic necessity of the victory of so-
cialism” Bernstein accepted the charge: “I regard it
as neither possible nor desirable to give the triumph
of socialism a purely materialistic foundation” (Gay,
p. 141). Where, then, did Bernstein seek a basis for
his ethics? This was the time of the Neo-Kantian revival


in Germany, and some of the leading Neo-Kantians,
particularly F. A. Lange and Hermann Cohen, were
sympathetic to the political Left. Inevitably, the Re-
visionists looked to Kant. Bernstein's immediate in-
spiration came from Lange, with Conrad Schmidt and
Ludwig Woltmann—philosophers on the fringe of the
SPD—also contributing. But Bernstein's Kantianism
was of a strictly limited nature. It provided a sanction
for his reintroduction of morality into Social-
Democratic ideology; but his use of it was mainly
instrumental, to justify his criticism of established
dogmas. Setting the device “Kant against Cant” at the
head of the last chapter of his Voraussetzungen, Bern-
stein appealed to “... the spirit of the great Königs-
berg philosopher... against the cant which sought
to get a hold on the working-class movement and to
which the Hegelian dialectic offers a comfortable ref-
uge” (Bernstein [1909], pp. 222f.). The cant to which
Bernstein referred was the “scientific” prediction of the
inevitable achievement of socialism through revolution.
“That which is generally called 'the final goal of so-
cialism'... is nothing to me but the movement is
” said Bernstein in a phrase much quoted
against him (Bernstein [1901], p. 234).

Socialism, for Bernstein, was not inevitable, but
desirable, based not on “science” but on demands,
interests, and desires—indeed he held that “no -ism
is a science” (Gay, p. 149). Further than this, or deeper
than this, Bernstein's Kantianism did not go. He used
it to buttress his skepticism, but he remained a “com-
mon-sense philosopher” (ibid., p. 151), and for him—
though not, as will be seen, for all later Revisionists—
philosophy was an afterthought, more illustrative than
formative in his general outlook.

Politics. In economics, Bernstein tested the received
schemata of Marxism against empirical fact, and found
them wanting; in philosophy he proved equally skepti-
cal of the sweeping claims of Marxian “science.” Either
way, theory yielded some ground to praxis. In politics,
even more so, Bernstein invited the SPD to discard
its revolutionary phrases and admit openly that it had
become a democratic reformist party. The politics of
German Revisionism were the politics of Social De-
mocracy called by their real name. Bernstein's aim was
that the party should encourage and extrapolate recent
trends; it should proceed by linear evolution rather
than dialectical conflicts. Electoral and parliamentary
success was worth having, he thought, not merely as
a school of revolution (the radical Marxist view) but
as a means towards the achievement of political power.
The development of “socialism-in-capitalism” (an idea
of which Marx's Vergesellschaftung [“socialization”] is
one forerunner, but which Bernstein took most directly
from the English Fabians) seemed to promise increasing
state intervention in the economy; the formation of
trusts and cartels, and the growth of municipal demo-
cratic institutions, seemed to portend “the piecemeal
realization of socialism” (Bernstein [1901], p. 233). For
Social Democrats, this strategy entailed the tactics of
alliance—alliance with trade unions, cooperatives, and
occasionally nonsocialist bodies. The trade unions, with
their built-in interest in partial, practical gains, were
natural allies for the Revisionists, though lacking any
bent for theory; and Bernstein, though a theorist of
praxis, was still a theorist. He therefore worked to shift
the SPD from its traditional view of the trade unions
as little more than recruiting-grounds for socialists,
with no prospect of contributing independently to the
achievement of socialism, and to persuade it that they
were worthy allies. Cooperatives, according to Bern-
stein, were also instruments of piecemeal progress to
socialism: not producer cooperatives—and here Bern-
stein parted company with Marx and joined Beatrice
Webb—but consumer cooperatives, which he saw as
fundamentally democratic and potentially socialistic
(Bernstein [1909], p. 118).

More important, and more controversial was the
Revisionist view of relations with nonsocialist orga-
nizations. Whether to legitimize the South German
provincial SPD's practice of parliamentary deals with
local nonsocialist parties; whether the Social
Democrats should claim, in 1903, the Vice-Presidency
of the Reichstag which was their due at the price of
a formal call on the Kaiser (wearing knee-breeches,
no less!); whether to allow Social Democrats to vote
for a (bourgeois) budget containing desirable conces-
sions to the labor movement; in each of these party
controversies, Bernstein fought for the obvious advan-
tages of reformist practice against the inhibitions of
revolutionary theory.

Summary and Critique. The main elements of Ger-
man Revisionist thought may now clearly be seen: in
economics, a confrontation of the Marxist theory of
social development by dialectical struggle and revolu-
tion with the facts as Bernstein saw them; the assertion
that these facts belied the Marxist analysis and the
predictions based on it; in economic theory, the relega-
tion of the labor theory of value to the status of an
abstract tool of analysis, and as such compatible with
marginalist theories; in philosophy, the substitution of
the principle of “organic evolution” for the dialectic,
and of ethics for determinism; in politics, reformism
instead of revolution. What is the common thread in
these different strands? More than anything, it is a shift
from the remote to the proximate, a shortening of the
time-scale, not indeed the time-scale for the achieve-
ment of socialism, but, on the one hand, the scale
against which predictive theory should be tested and,


on the other, the scale within which constructive social
and political action was possible; a shift, that is, from
the remoteness of theory to the immediacy of praxis.
It was this shift which enabled Bernstein's opponents
to accuse him of opportunism, and which led Karl
Johann Kautsky, the orthodox “center” ideologist, to
characterize both Bernstein's Revisionism and Luxem-
burg's revolutionary radicalism as different forms of

We need not here pursue in any detail the impact
and aftermath of the Revisionist controversy within the
SPD. For some years, after the electoral setback of
1907 prompted the leadership to adopt and justify
Revisionist attitudes to Parliament, it seemed that
Revisionism might gradually prevail. But two major
events extrinsic to the main lines of debate, the First
World War and the Russian Revolution, so altered the
terms of discussion that not only Bernstein but later
also Kautsky became largely irrelevant. On these two
issues, in fact, Bernstein and Kautsky saw eye to eye.
Old alignments were swept away: most Revisionists,
and some radicals, supported the war, but Bernstein
soon came out against it. The splitting of the Social
Democratic body by the formation first of the antiwar
Independent Party (USPD, Unabhängige Sozialdemo-
kratische Partei Deutschlands
) and later of the German
Communist Party altered the conditions necessary for
the existence of a substantial Revisionist heresy. The
SPD became what Bernstein had urged it should
become—an admittedly reformist party; and Revi-
sionism ceased to have any raison d'être.

These major changes make it less easy to judge
Bernstein's Revisionism on its merits. In many ways
it proved over-optimistic. If his contention that the
middle classes did not disappear was broadly justified,
the Great Depression of the 1930's disproved his belief
that the era of major crises was past. In politics it is,
to say the least, unlikely that the class and legal struc-
ture of the German Empire would ever have permitted
the peaceful parliamentary transition to socialism
which Bernstein envisaged, however relevant such
ideas may be in countries with genuine parliamentary
institutions. Nor is it certain that, even if the Social
Democrats had adopted a reformist program (as they
did—too late—at Görlitz in 1921) the radical-liberal
bourgeoisie would have agreed to the alliance with
them that Bernstein's strategy required. In a speech
of 1925, which smacks of special pleading, Bernstein
argued Weimar Germany could not be called a “capi-
talist republic” (Bernstein archives, quoted by Gay,
p. 215). But events were soon to prove that Weimar's
road away from capitalism led not to socialism but to
something else. Although the aged Bernstein, loved and
respected but quite uninfluential, warned repeatedly
against the danger of right-wing subversion of the
Republic, the middle classes failed to be the allies of
the proletariat which he hoped they would be, and
even the proletariat turned readily enough to Nazism
as a creed of salvation. Paradoxically, perhaps, in phi-
losophy, where Bernstein was least serious and pro-
found, Revisionist ideas have proved most durable.
Ethical socialism, as an opposition movement, whether
reformist or revolutionary, never amounted to any-
thing; but the injection of ethics (of a different kind:
existentialist as much as Kantian) into socialism in
power has, as will be seen, played a major part in
Revisionist thought in eastern Europe after World
War II.

Revisionism in Other Countries. In no other country
were the basic conditions for the emergence of Revi-
sionism reproduced as they existed in Germany. What
was needed was a single democratic mass labor party,
doctrinally committed to revolutionary Marxism, but
faced with a prima facie increasingly viable capitalist
society in which it had to exist. What emerges there-
fore is not so much parallel manifestations of Revision-
ism as refractions of the German controversy, which
did indeed echo through the Second International. The
nearest approach to the German situation came in
Austria, but the Austrian party was much preoccupied
with the problems of national groups within the Habs-
burg Empire, and soon adopted a quasi-federal struc-
ture. Moreover, although Karl Renner and Max Adler,
both leaders of the Austro-Marxist school, adopted
Revisionist positions on such issues as gradualism and
Kantianism respectively, the coincidental impact of
serious academic criticism of Marxism, in the person
of Eugen Böhm-Bawerk, shifted the lines of demarca-
tion to the right and prevented the development of
a Revisionist debate or a Revisionist movement in the
Austrian party (Lichtheim [1964], pp. 278-306).

Otherwise only in Russia had Marxism become, or
was becoming, the accepted doctrine of the Social-
Democratic movement; and in Russia there was no
mass party, nor was it a question of explaining the
unexpected viability of mature capitalism. On the con-
trary, Russian Marxism appeared in the 1890's almost
simultaneously with Russian capitalism, and the con-
cern of its early protagonists was to win adherents from
the Populists by stressing the extent and persistence
of capitalism, and indeed its ultimate beneficence. But
Russian Revisionism also appeared at the same time
as Russian Marxism. It was not a revolt against an
established and institutionalized orthodoxy, but an ini-
tial acceptance. of Marxism only with reservations.
Indeed, as befitted a movement confined to the intelli-
gentsia and represented by a pleiad of outstanding
intellectuals, philosophical doubt played a greater part


in Russian than in German Revisionism; several years
before Bernstein, Peter Struve, the most prominent and
versatile of the Russian Revisionists, considered it nec-
essary to “supplement Marxism” with Neo-Kantian
philosophy, which was then becoming popular in
Russia as elsewhere (Kindersley [1962], pp. 48, 112f.).
For the most part, however, German Revisionism
affected the Russian Social-Democratic movement by
providing an object lesson for Lenin and other radicals
to point to, and a pejorative label to attach to party
opponents even when there was no close parallel to
the German situation.

In Italy, as in Russia, there was an important intel-
lectual Marxist movement, headed by Antonio Labriola
and an equally powerful movement of criticism of
Marxism, of which Vilfredo Pareto and Benedetto
Croce were the most distinguished representatives. But
the Italian Socialist Party was never fully committed
to Marxist ideology; nor was it a mass party such as
the SPD, aiming de facto at mobilizing an enfranchised
membership for the parliamentary conquest of power.
The German Revisionist controversy was observed with
interest in the Italian socialist press, but it had little
relevance to Italian conditions.

Lastly, neither in Britain nor in France was there
a serious Revisionist controversy. In British Socialism,
the ascendancy of the Fabians meant that Marxism
never became the dominant ideology; it was not until
1917, or even later, that Marxism was taken at all
seriously by British socialists. In France, the party
situation was far more fluid and complex than in
Germany: a united French Socialist party was formed
only in 1905. The issue of reformism versus revolu-
tionism was debated in France not within a single
Marxist party but between rival socialist parties. Pre-
cipitated in the extreme form of “ministerialism” when
the socialist Alexandre Millerand accepted a post in
the Radical cabinet of 1899, the discussion was nar-
rowed to the political question of cooperation with
bourgeois organizations, and avoided ideological con-
frontation. The Marxist Jules Guesde's resolution con-
demning French Revisionism in orthodox German
terms, at the Amsterdam Congress of the International
in 1904, was a tactical move aimed at the ideologically
eclectic leader, Jean Jaurès, not against a dissident
Marxist like Bernstein, for whom there was no French
equivalent. In any event, French socialism remained
under Jaurès' domination until his death in 1914. There
was no ruling orthodoxy, and therefore no Revisionism.

The Soviet Period to the Death of Stalin. The Bol-
shevik Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the
Communist International in 1919-20 introduced an
entirely new situation. The Bolsheviks' seizure and
maintenance of power in Russia created a new institu
tion of orthodoxy, markedly to the left of Kautsky's,
with the evidence of success as proof of its validity.
The Second Congress of the Comintern forcibly inter-
nationalized this orthodoxy and split the European
labor movement. But those parties which remained
outside the Comintern now became in Soviet eyes not
heretics but complete apostates, renegades, or infidels;
Moscow could not admit that they had any part of
Marxism, and soon many of them did not claim it. In
the few Social Democratic parties that did profess
Marxism, theory was—in spite of a few works such
as Henri de Man's Au delà du Marxisme (Paris, 1927),
written in a revisionist spirit—submerged in that re-
formist praxis which was the cause or effect of Re-
visionism rather than Revisionism itself. In the words
of the Program of the Communist International
adopted at the Sixth World Congress in August 1928,
“social-democracy has completely abandoned Marxism.
... Having traversed the stage of Revisionism, it has
reached that of bourgeois liberal social reform and
overt social imperialism” (J. Degras [1960], p. 515).

Nor did the major new heresies, which sprang up
in the Soviet Union and the World Communist move-
ment itself, qualify for the label Revisionist. For some
ten years after the Revolution, these heresies were on
the Left, the products either of doctrinaire adherence
to Communist principle where the self-defining ortho-
doxy of those in power saw the political need for
compromise, or of a factional struggle centered round
the figure of Leon Trotsky. For a brief spell in the
mid-twenties, solitary figures such as Georg Lukács (see
below) might be condemned as Revisionist, as a term
of opprobrium with little meaning. But by the time
that a Right Opposition, led by Bukharin, Rykov, and
Tomsky, emerged in the Soviet Union, the label Re-
visionist was, as has been seen, already considered
obsolete. Bernstein had not even been expelled from
the German Social Democratic Party, and to call a
man Revisionist was something less than calling him
a traitor; but in the circumstances of Stalin's emergent
dictatorship, collectivization and the first Five-Year-
Plan, the lines of loyalty were so harshly drawn that
any divergence quickly became treachery. Revisionism
is incompatible with a totalitarian system. Thus, with
orthodoxy disintegrated on the one side, and totally
imposed on the other, the idea of Revisionism virtually
disappeared from the international labor movement for
some forty years. It was not until new divisions in the
World Communist system came to light after the death
of Stalin that Revisionism reappeared in any definable

Modern Forms of Revisionism. If the original Ger-
man Revisionism was the result of one Marxist's efforts
to produce a coherent statement of his views on eco-


nomics and politics, modern forms of Revisionism have
fallen broadly into two distinct but related types, po-
litical and philosophical. Neither type originated in a
single mind: each was rather the product of multiple

1. Political Revisionism. Perhaps the first sign that
Revisionism might be due for a revival came in 1948,
when, in the increasingly angry exchange of corre-
spondence between the Soviet and Yugoslav Central
Committees, Stalin accused the Yugoslav Party of
“being hoodwinked by the degenerate and opportunist
theory of peaceful absorption of capitalist elements by
a socialist system, borrowed from Bernstein, Vollmar
and Bukharin” (R.I.I.A. [1948], p. 16). The Yugoslav
challenge to Stalin's authority may be taken as the first
postwar manifestation of political Revisionism, of
which the chief characteristic was the rejection of
Soviet authority, rather than any specific program
which might justify the name of Revisionist. Not only
were the political circumstances so changed since
Bernstein's time—parties in power concerned with the
maintenance and development of socialist states in
contrast to a party in opposition aiming at the attain-
ment of power by revolution or otherwise—that a close
analogy would be hard to find; but in Yugoslavia at
least there was, at the time of the break with Stalin,
little to justify the accusation of deviation from the
Soviet “model” of socialism and nothing to support
that of leanings towards bourgeois society. In any
event, the Soviet-Yugoslav dispute escalated so quickly
that within a year the Russians were calling the Yugo-
slavs “Fascists.” Revisionist thus hardly seemed a useful
epithet, although the Yugoslavs subsequently developed
certain policies (notably the abandonment of agricul-
tural collectivization, the introduction of “workers'
self-management,” and the redefinition of the role of
the Party in society) with theoretical implications
which could plausibly have been called Revisionist; so
could their view that neither pure capitalism nor pure
socialism exists, but only a spectrum of mixed social

Paradoxically, it was the Yugoslav ideologist Edvard
Kardelj who revived the label Revisionist in 1953-54
so that he might condemn Milovan Djilas' “social-
democratic” heresy within the Yugoslav Party. But it
was not until after the Soviet-Yugoslav reconciliation
of 1955-56 that it became an appropriate term for the
Russians to use for the official Yugoslav leadership. By
then the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, with Khru-
shchev's denunciation of Stalin, had set in motion a
process which brought the “national Communists” to
power: Imre Nagy briefly and tragically in Hungary,
Gomułka more enduringly in Poland. Insofar as they
rejected Soviet leadership, in the name of their own
country's interests, these men could be called political
Revisionists: but the fact that Gomułka, after a strug-
gle, gained Soviet approval for his leadership, enabled
him to avoid stigmatization as such. Meanwhile, Pravda
revived the term revisionism in criticism of Kardelj's
failure to support the Soviet view of the Hungarian
revolution (Yu. Pavlov in Pravda, 18 December 1956);
Mao Tse-tung, concerned at the possible disintegration
of the socialist bloc, judiciously contrasted “dogma-
tism,” defined as blind imitation of Soviet experience,
with Revisionism, defined as “revising Marxism under
the pretext of fighting dogmatism” (Mao Tse-tung,

By 1957 the struggle against Revisionism had be-
come a convenient rallying-cry for all those who feared
that the principle of “separate roads to socialism” had
been interpreted in such a way that some of the roads
might diverge from socialism altogether. These in-
cluded not only the Soviet leaders, but some others:
Gomułka in Poland—for all his challenge to Soviet
authority and his rejection of Soviet example in such
matters as agricultural and Church policy—was con-
cerned at the appearance within his own Party of
philosophical revisionism (see below); Ulbricht in East
Germany was faced with a program for the democrati-
zation of the régime elaborated by Wolfgang Harich,
an intellectual Party member, which included elements
from Yugoslav and Polish practice and far-reaching
suggestions for rapprochement with the West German
SPD. In these circumstances the Soviet leaders, with
Chinese encouragement, began an international cam-
paign against Revisionism, which would have the
effects of ensuring the bloc against disintegration from
the virus of Titoism, and also stabilizing those régimes
which were under pressure from Westernizing intel-
lectual dissidents in the Party ranks.

Early in 1957, the Soviet ideologist Boris Ponomarev
defined the seven sins of Revisionism in terms which
illustrate this double purpose: (1) minimization of im-
perialist aggression; (2) denial of CPSU leadership; (3)
rejection of class struggle and collaborationism be-
tween classes; (4) social-democratism; (5) denial of
Leninist dictatorship of the proletariat; (6) rejection
of a centralized, disciplined Party; and (7) adoption
of national Communism (Brzezinski [1962], p. 305). In
October 1957 Gomułka complained of Revisionists and
Liquidationists “of various sorts... [who] offer no
positive program... [but] act by negation and fruitless
criticism” in the Polish Party (Pravda, 31 October
1957; trans. R. K. Kindersley). Shortly afterwards, at
the meeting of twelve Ruling Parties in Moscow in
November, Revisionism was declared to be “the main
danger” in the international workers' movement, the
Yugoslavs refusing to subscribe.


The Yugoslavs' retort took the form of a new Party
Program in the spring of 1958, which was at once
recognized as the epitome of political Revisionism,
much as the Erfurt Program had been the epitome of
orthodoxy. This program was a major document, the
length of a small book, and embodied, from the ortho-
dox, i.e., Soviet and Chinese, point of view, five serious
transgressions: it exaggerated positive developments in
the capitalist world, notably the social effects of the
extension of state intervention in the economy; it failed
adequately to distinguish between the aggressive na-
ture of the imperialist and the defensive nature of the
socialist camp; it underestimated the value of Soviet
experience (e.g., collectivization) for other Socialist
countries; it spoke prematurely of the withering-away
of the State as a practical policy; and it reduced the
role of the Party in a socialist country to one of ideo-
logical education instead of active leadership. It will
be seen that all these are specifications of one or other
of the sins of Revisionism listed by Ponomarev in 1957.

In the antirevisionist campaign which followed (and
which involved the execution of Imre Nagy and his
associates), the Chinese took the lead; and within the
next two years their attacks on “modern revisionism”
began to be aimed at the Soviet Union rather than
the Yugoslavs. The main Chinese argument in support
of their accusation has been that the Soviet leaders
have compromised with imperialism. In 1968 a Soviet
spokesman, prompted by the Maoist inspiration of
some of the French student rebels of May 1968, re-
ferred to the struggle against the revision of Marxism-
Leninism both from the Left and from the Right
(Pravda, 19 June 1968), and the term “left revisionism”
has appeared since on occasion (see, e.g., Chesnokov
[1968], p. 3). Like medieval schismatics, each side has
called the other heretic, using the terms appropriate
to convey odium theologicum in a secular movement.

The Czechoslovak Communist reform movement of
1968 represents a further instance of political Revi-
sionism. (The term was used by the Soviet leader
Leonid Brezhnev with the Czechs in mind in March
1968.) Mindful of the experience of their Hungarian
predecessors in 1956, the Czechoslovak leaders care-
fully attempted to reassure the Russians on the two
points on which the Hungarian Revisionists over-
stepped the bounds: the Czechs repeatedly affirmed
first that they remained loyal allies of the Soviet Union
in the Warsaw Pact, and secondly, that they had no
intention of allowing the revival of a multi-party sys-
tem in such a form as would jeopardize the leading
role of the Communist Party.

The reasons why these assurances were not accepted
fall outside the scope of this article. But two points
may be noted in conclusion: Soviet speakers used the
terms “revisionism” and “nationalism” repeatedly in
close conjunction during their criticisms of the Czech-
oslovak movement during 1968, almost as if they were
two different aspects of the same phenomenon. Sec-
ondly, the Chinese took the view that the Czech crisis
was the action of one “revisionist renegade clique”
against another. These two instances, among many,
illustrate the decline of “Revisionism” into an emotive
term of political vituperation.

2. Philosophical Revisionism. Philosophy was, as we
have seen, the weakest side of Bernstein's doctrine but
it may well prove to be the most important form of
latter-day Revisionism. Modern philosophical Revi-
sionism is the product of numerous philosophers, more
or less isolated, working under various conditions,
mainly in Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, but
also in the Communist movements of certain Western
countries, particularly France and Italy. The term is,
nevertheless, used not only by Soviet ideologists to
describe certain philosophical trends with which they
disagree, but also by non-Marxist scholars in the West
(Z. A. Jordan, G. L. Kline) when discussing the same
trends from a more sympathetic point of view. It has
therefore sufficient currency, if not precision, to justify

Whereas Bernstein rebelled against Marxist ortho-
doxy in the name of existing practice, modern Revi-
sionist philosophers have rebelled against Marxist-
Leninist—and residually Stalinist—orthodoxy in the
name not of reality, of which they are also more or
less critical, but of a social ideal. It is for them no
longer a question of achievement of power by one or
another means—revolution or evolution—but of using
the power possessed by ruling Communist parties (of
which they have generally been members, at least
initially) to create the good society. As philosophers,
they have attempted to define the principles relevant
to this task in their most general form. Their efforts
in this respect have led them from the “Marxism” of
Engels, Lenin, and Stalin back to that of Marx himself.
They have tended to reject such features of Marxist
philosophy (more closely associated with Engels and
Lenin than with Marx) as the epistemological theory
of reflection, the dialectic of nature, and ontological
materialism, while accepting Marx's historical materi-
alism and his critique of capitalism and religion. But
they have moved away from impersonal historical
determinism to the reassertion of the responsibility and
freedom of the individual; from the primacy of society
to the primacy of Man; from socialism as a means of
material abundance to socialism as an ethical ideal.

The Revisionists and Marxism. Faced as they were
with Marxism converted into a justification for Stalinist
tyranny, Revisionist philosophers were concerned with


reaffirming the validity of the humanist side of Marx's
doctrine. This humanism was, in their view, to be found
most clearly expressed in Marx's early works; it had
been overshadowed, but not erased, in the later works,
and even more so by Engels, Lenin, and Stalin.

In spite of this appeal to Marx against his successors,
contemporary philosophical Revisionism is not a fun-
damentalist doctrine. Not all would go as far as the
Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, for whom
Marxism will cease to exist as a separate doctrine as
its valid tenets are sifted and absorbed into the general
storehouse of human thought, “just as there is no
'Newtonism' in physics, no 'Linnaeism' in Botany, no
'Harveyism' in physiology and no 'Gaussism' in mathe-
matics” (Kołakowski [1969], p. 206). Others such as
Adam Schaff were ready to extend the scope of Marx-
ism to tackle problems hitherto avoided by Marxist
philosophers, such as semantics and existentialism (here
a direct stimulus came from Sartre), but did not free
themselves from the instrumentalist tradition of Marx-
ism, and still retained a basically political motivation.
They were willing to revise Marxism in order to defend
it. They retained, that is, a certain methodological
dogmatism: recognizing that there are definite limits
which no one could transgress if he did not wish to
sever his connections with Marxism-Leninism, they
accepted these limitations (Jordan [1962], 6, 15). Others
again were less concerned to define their attitude to
Marxism in general than to select such parts of Marxist
doctrine as could be useful to them in developing a
philosophy of socialist humanism. In this, their main
inspiration has come from the young Marx, but they
have also adapted elements of existentialism and
Kantianism. They have regarded Marxism as the legiti-
mate harvester of the fruits of other philosophies. They
have thus recognized a dialogue between Marxism and
contemporary continental philosophy—a dialogue de-
nied by Soviet philosophers, who still insist on the
dichotomies of “Marxist” and “bourgeois,” “materi-
alist” and “idealist” philosophy.

Determinism, Freedom, and Ethics. Where the
orthodox tradition is cosmocentric, contemporary
Revisionists have been anthropocentric. Social deter-
minism (seen as a justification of Marxism institu-
tionalized in the rule of a Stalinist party and defined
from moment to moment by that Party in response
to political needs) has been questioned and diluted with
elements of individual responsibility; in this Koła-
kowski led the way in 1957 with a statement of what
amounts to “statistical” but not individual determinism
(Kołakowski [1969], pp. 160f.; cf. also Marković,
1963.); others, apparently forsaking rigorous philo-
sophical statement, have opted for “moderate deter-
minism” (Stojanović, in Lobkowicz [1967], p. 171). This
reaction against determinism, together with its ethical
consequences, is one of the few features common to
Bernstein and to Revisionist philosophers today.

Antideterminism was naturally linked with the re-
habilitation of individual moral autonomy: no longer
could Das Sollen (“the ought”) be derived from Das
(“the is”). Kołakowski insisted that men could not
avoid moral judgments of political reality; Mihailo
Marković, a prominent member of the Praxis group
in Yugoslavia, has argued that science can only offer
alternative probabilities, from which we choose ac-
cording to our moral values. Svetozar Stojanović has
urged that Marxism should develop a system of norma-
tive ethics of its own.

Man and Society: Alienation. Much attention has
been devoted to the relations between Man and Soci-
ety. In this connection, a key concept, derived from
the young Marx, has been that of alienation. Though
the term is much older, it was first “discovered” by
Georg Lukács in the early 1920's, then revealed by
the publication of Marx's “Paris” manuscripts in 1932,
but only brought to the fore by Western Marxists in
the 1940's and 1950's. Alienation has been an important
tool of Marxist criticism of existing socialist societies.
Marx said that man suffers alienation under capitalism.
The contemporary Revisionists' main contribution has
been to assert that alienation persists under socialism,
particularly in the form of bureaucracy. Just as it was
Yugoslav ideologists who first in Eastern Europe pro-
duced a critique of Stalinism as a bureaucratic de-
generation of socialism (there is perhaps an unconscious
echo of Trotsky here), so it is Yugoslav philoso-
phers who have devoted most energy to discussion of
alienation in socialist society. It is, moreover, the
Yugoslavs who profess to see a possible solution to the
problem in their own system of social and workers'
self-management. They sharply distinguish the ideal of
socialism from affluence based on technology (e.g.,
Danilo Pejović, in Fromm [1965], pp. 181ff.): for them
the socialist ideal is defined in the Communist Mani-
festo as a society “in which the free development of
each is the condition for the free development of all.”

The Dialectic. Unlike Bernstein, most contemporary
Revisionist philosophers retain the dialectic view not
of Nature but of Man and Society. Here again, Lukács,
the Neo-Hegelian Revisionist of the 1920's, was their
predecessor. For some, such as Karel Kosík and Milan
Prucha in Czechoslovakia, to accept the dialectic is
to see Man in the totality of his relationships; for others
such as Marković, it is a pledge of permanent social
criticism. In either case it is an expression of philo-
sophical radicalism: in Marx's words, De omnibus dubi-

National Traits of Revisionism. We have seen that


Revisionism and nationalism are closely associated in
the orthodox mind: one of the characteristics of politi-
cal Revisionism is an excessive emphasis on national
peculiarities. Insofar as political Revisionism sprang
from the rejection of a single (Soviet) model of social-
ism, this is an understandable judgment, borne out by
the rehabilitation of national traditions which has ac-
companied the manifestations of Revisionism in East-
ern Europe. But national circumstances have also left
their stamp on philosophical Revisionism.

One reason why Polish philosophers took the lead
in Revisionism was the existence in prewar Poland of
a distinguished school of analytical philosophers, some
of whom were still active after 1948. A. Schaff was
a product of this school; in 1951, when Kołakowski
was still orthodox, Schaff used its ideas in a critical
examination of the Marxist theory of truth (Jordan
[1963], pp. 88ff.).

In Yugoslavia, on the contrary, with no philosophical
tradition, official political Revisionism removed for
some years the stimulus of orthodoxy, and thus delayed
the development of philosophical Revisionism. Libera-
tion from the initial dominance of Russian Marxism
in its Leninist-Stalinist form was followed by a period
of Marxist fundamentalism, characterized by close
study of texts, with little application to current social
problems. It was not until about 1962, and particularly
since the foundation of Praxis in 1964, that serious
efforts were made to judge social reality by developing
the criteria of Marxist humanism. In Czechoslovakia,
there was a brief onslaught on philosophical Revision-
ism, defined as philosophy divorced from politics, in
1959. Among those attacked were Karel Kosík, repre-
sentative of a dialectic view of totality akin to that
of Lukács, and Ivan Sviták, a more typical Marxist
humanist, both of whom were prominent in the politi-
cal reform movement of 1967-68.

Revisionism: Right or Left? In the sense that he
could be regarded as advocating a compromise with
bourgeois capitalist reality, Bernstein was correctly
seen as the originator of a right-wing heresy in Social
Democracy. Subsequent forms of political Revisionism
were also to the right of orthodoxy, at least until Soviet
ideologists began to apply the term to the Chinese:
for all except the Chinese (and Albanians) showed a
tendency to move not only away from exclusive alle-
giance to Moscow but towards a position less sharply
opposed to “imperialism.” But on the philosophical
plane the position is far less clear-cut. The Revisionists'
interest in, and openness to, Western philosophy (in-
cluding Thomism and nineteenth-century phenome-
nology) might seem to place them on the Right; but
their emergence has always betokened a radical revolt
against dogmatic, conservative, or ossified features of
socialist régimes. Kołakowski, analyzing the concept
of the Left, ascribed to it “a position of permanent
revisionism toward reality”—meaning socialist as well
as capitalist reality (Kołakowski, p. 96). “Criticism of
all that exists” was the text from Marx under which
Praxis originally launched its campaign against “Sta-
linist positivism,” and the heritage which Marković,
Petrović, and others claim from Marx is not (as with
Bernstein) evolutionary, but revolutionary. Kołakowski
has even touched on the possible use of force by the
Left under socialism (loc. cit.). In Yugoslavia, Marković
has consistently criticized bureaucratic privilege in
socialist society; and when political Revisionism, al-
ready institutionalized in the Party, espoused economic
liberalization, many Revisionist philosophers took up
a position of radical opposition. In Czechoslovakia in
1967-68 on the other hand, faced with a régime both
dogmatic and conservative, political and philosophical
Revisionism joined hands: philosophers such as Karel
Kosík and Ivan Sviták were prominent supporters of
Dubček's reform movement. Revisionism is the product
and antithesis of orthodoxy; it cannot be classified as
Right or Left without prior classification of the partic-
ular orthodoxy to which it is opposed.


E. Bernstein, Die Voraussetzung des Sozialismus und die
Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie
(Stuttgart, 1899), trans. as
Evolutionary Socialism (London, 1909); idem, Zur Ge-
schichte und Theorie des Sozialismus
(Berlin, 1901). J. M.
Bochenski, “The Great Split,” Studies in Soviet Thought,
No. 1 (1968), 1-15, a study of philosophical developments
in Eastern Europe which argues that what is called “Revi-
sionism” amounts to a complete break with Marxism-
Leninism. Z. K. Brzezinski, The Soviet Bloc, revised ed. (New
York, 1961), a ground-breaking study of the political basis
of ideological formulae, including Revisionism, since the
Second World War. D. I. Chesnokov, “Obostrenie ideyno-
politicheskoy bor'by i sovremenny revizionizm,” Voprosy
No. 12 (1968), 3-14, a polemical sally against Revi-
sionist philosophers mainly in Eastern Europe. E. Fromm,
ed., Socialist Humanism: an International Symposium (New
York, 1965), contains contributions from most of the leading
Marxist humanist philosophers in Poland, Czechoslovakia,
and Yugoslavia. P. Gay, The Dilemma of Democratic Social-
(New York, 1952), a study of Bernstein's ideas and
career. Z. A. Jordan, Philosophy and Ideology (Dordrecht,
1963), a good study of the impact of Marxism on Polish
philosophy since 1945; idem, “The Philosophical Back-
ground of Revisionism in Poland,” East Europe, 11, No. 6
(1962), 11-17, 26-29, and No. 7, 14-23. R. Kindersley, The
First Russian Revisionists
(Oxford, 1962), deals with the
so-called “Legal Marxists” in Russia up to about 1902. L.
Kołakowski, Marxism and Beyond (London, 1969), contains
crucial articles by the leading Polish Revisionist philoso-
pher. G. L. Kline, ed., European Philosophy Today (Chicago,


1965), contains a contribution by the editor on “Leszek
Kołakowski and the Revision of Marxism.” The opening
section of this study of Kołakowski gives an interesting
classification of the various brands of Revisionist philosophy
today. Karel Kosík, Dialektika Konkretního (Prague, 1963),
Kosík's major work; German trans., Die Dialektik des Kon-
(Frankfurt a. M., 1967). G. Lichtheim, Marxism, 2nd
ed. (London, 1964), contains a chapter devoted to Revision-
ism. N. Lobkowicz, ed., Marx and the Western World (Notre
Dame, 1967), a symposium, including contributions by Gajo
Petrović, Svetozar Stojanović, and Karel Kosík. Mao Tse-
tung, More on the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship
of the Proletariat
(New China News Agency, 29 December
1956). M. Marković, Dialektik der Praxis (Frankfurt a. M.,
1968), the fullest statement in a Western language of the
position of one of the leading Yugoslav Marxist humanists;
idem, “Marxist Humanism and Ethics,” Inquiry, 6 (1963),
18-34. G. Petrović, Marx in the Mid-twentieth Century (New
York, 1967). Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA),
The Soviet-Yugoslav Dispute [Documents] (London, 1948).
A. Schaff, A Philosophy of Man (New York, 1963). S. Sto-
janovic, “Contemporary Yugoslav Philosophy,” Ethics, 76,
No. 4 (1966), 297-301.

In addition, the following periodicals may be consulted
with advantage: Survey (London); Studies in Soviet Thought
(Fribourg); Problems of Communism (Washington, D.C.);
Praxis, (Zagreb, has an International Edition with the main
articles translated into English, French, or German; con-
tributors are drawn from a wide range of countries).


[See also Alienation in Hegel and Marx; Historical and
Dialectical Materialism;
Ideology of Soviet Communism;
Marxism; Nationalism; Social Democracy in Germany; So-
cialism from Antiquity to Marx.