Politics in Minutes (2016)

Reformism, or evolutionary socialism

Instead of sudden, radical changes, a number of socialists proposed a more gradual transition or evolution. The idea of evolutionary socialism was first formulated around the turn of the 20th century by a German socialist, Eduard Bernstein. He suggested that socialism could be achieved by democratic means, by reforms introduced through parliament and the existing political system. Reformism was rejected by orthodox revolutionary socialists, such as Rosa Luxemburg, who not only saw it as ineffective, but were also impatient for change.

However, the reformist idea of alleviating the injustices of capitalism, and in time replacing it entirely, became the guiding principle of several democratic socialist parties in Europe, including Bernstein’s German Social Democratic Party (SPD). In the end, the critics were proved right, and evolutionary socialism did not bring about a socialist state – in fact in 1959, the SPD officially changed its policy to one of social reform rather than working towards an end to capitalism.

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Alexis Tsipras led the anti-austerity party SYRIZA to victory in the Greek general election of 2015.