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Reformism, or reformist socialism, is a bourgeois deception of the working class where the capitalist class retains control over the means of production. It is only possible when workers do not have a dictatorship of the proletariat. Reformist governments and political movements are a type of controlled opposition. That is, persons and organizations that appear to be anti-capitalist, but are in fact damaging the anti-capitalist movement.

As described by Lenin:[1]

"Unlike the anarchists, the Marxists recognise struggle for reforms, i.e., for measures that improve the conditions of the working people without destroying the power of the ruling class. At the same time, however, the Marxists wage a most resolute struggle against the reformists, who, directly or indirectly, restrict the aims and activities of the working class to the winning of reforms. Reformism is bourgeois deception of the workers, who, despite individual improvements, will always remain wage-slaves, as long as there is the domination of capital. The liberal bourgeoisie grant reforms with one hand, and with the other always take them back, reduce them to nought, use them to enslave the workers, to divide them into separate groups and perpetuate wage-slavery. For that reason reformism, even when quite sincere, in practice becomes a weapon by means of which the bourgeoisie corrupt and weaken the workers. The experience of all countries shows that the workers who put their trust in the reformists are always fooled. "

These reformist organizations and individuals are significantly more dangerous to the Marxist-Leninist movement and to other types of scientific socialism than open opposition. Open opposition inspires resistance, while controlled opposition is designed to absorb that resistance. Once controlled opposition takes control of a movement, the only hope for the cause of that movement is for real opposition to take back the movement, expose controlled opposition for what they are, or build an alternative movement. Lenin famously did this with the Mensheviks.

Reformists will typically make decisions harmful to political organization's struggle against capital and try to get others to do the same under the guise of helping them. While reformist organizations might appear to take action and even have small symbolic wins, what reformists will never do is make meaningful and decisive victory, because their goal isn’t to win. If someone on their side begins to adopt a strategy that could actually win or cause a loss for capitalism, reformists will be there to undermine that strategy and ensure the win does not occur. The social democrats of Germany famously did this in the lead-up to Hitler taking power.[2]

While reformism might have secondary aims like eliminating certain activists or making communism look bad, the goal of reformism is to run the movement they claim to support on behalf of capital. If reformists can gain control of a movement, then they can ensure that anyone seeking to oppose the side they really work for will join organizations and efforts they control that are designed to fail.

Reformists can be challenging to identify for the reason that they are functionally spies, and spies try to hide their true identity. However, the easiest way to identify reformism is to judge activists by their outcomes. If you find yourself asking why an organization or activist appears to be engaging in activity harmful to their movement, consider the possibility that this harm is intentional. Only occasionally do reformists make themselves obvious, by participating in hit pieces against the movement they claim to support, promoting opposition organizations, like strike-breakers or being caught in a lie intended to harm the movement they claim to support.


Electoralism is the most common theory of reformist action. It posits that all political action and education should be directed towards seizing control of existing political systems through the legal method of elections. With a complete rejection of all other forms of legal Class struggle, illegal methods such as illegal unions or illegal striking, and a refusal to acknowledge the successes of proletarian dictatorships over bourgeois dictatorships.

See also


  1. Lenin (1913). Marxism and Reformism.
  2. “In the December 1932 election, three candidates ran for president:
    the conservative incumbent Field Marshal von Hindenburg, the Nazi candidate Adolph Hitler, and the Communist party candidate Ernst Thaelmann. In his campaign, Thaelmann argued that a vote for Hindenburg amounted to a vote for Hitler and that Hitler would lead Germany into war. The bourgeois press, including the Social Democrats, denounced this view as "Moscow inspired." Hindenburg was re-elected while the Nazis dropped approximately two million votes in the Reichstag election as compared to their peak of over 13.7 million.”

    Michael Parenti (1997). Blackshirts & reds: 'Chapter 1, Rational Fascism; Plutocrats Choose Autocrats' (p. 5). CITY LIGHTS BOOKS. ISBN 9780872863293 [LG]