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Within the Marxist movement, the word revisionism is used to refer to various ideas, principles and theories that are based on a significant revision of fundamental Marxist premises. The term is most often used by those Marxists who believe that such revisions are unwarranted and represent a "watering down" or abandonment of Marxism. As such, revisionism often carries pejorative connotations. Few Marxists label themselves as revisionists. The opposing term and concept, even used among Marxists, is Marxist dogmatism.

The term "revisionism" has been used in a number of different contexts to refer to a number of different revisions (or claimed revisions) of Marxist theory:

  • In the late 19th century, revisionism was used to describe social democrats writers such as Eduard Bernstein and Jean Jaurès, who sought to revise Karl Marx's ideas about the transition to socialism and claimed that a revolution through force was not necessary to achieve a socialist society. The views of Bernstein and Jaurès gave rise to reformist theory, which asserts that socialism can be achieved through gradual peaceful reforms from within a capitalist system.

  • In the 1940s and 1950s within the international communist movement, revisionism was a term used by Stalinists to describe communists who focused on consumer goods production instead of heavy industry, accepted national differences and encouraged democratic reforms. Revisionism was one of the charges leveled at Titoists in a series of purges beginning in 1949 in Eastern Europe. After Stalin's death revisionism became briefly acceptable in Hungarymarker during Imre Nagy's government (1953-1955) and in Poland during Władysław Gomułka's government, although neither Nagy nor Gomułka described themselves as revisionists.

  • Following the Soviet repression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, many people, particularly intellectuals, resigned from western Communist parties in protest. They were sometimes accused of revisionism by "loyalist" Communists. E. P. Thompson's New Reasoner was an example of this revisionism. This movement eventually became known as the New Left.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary Revisionism 1. "A policy first put forward in the 1890s by Edward Bernstein (1850-1932) advocating the introduction of socialism through evolution rather than revolution, in opposition to the orthodox view of Marxists; hence a term of abuse used within the communist world for an interpretation of Marxism which is felt to threaten the canonical policy." with the first use in English "1903 Social-Democrat VII. 84 (heading) Revisionism in Germany."
  2. Philip P. Wiener (ed). Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, in 1973-74. R. K. Kindersley Marxist revisionism: From Bernstein to modern forms, website of the University of Virginia Library. Accessed 28 April 2008

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