By Max Lane — Rosa Luxemburg wrote the booklet Social Reform or Revolution in response to the writings of Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein was advocating an “evolutionary” path to socialism, counter-posed to revolution. “Reform or revolution?” became a fundamental question for the socialist and labour movements at the beginning of the 20th century. Defining the division between revolutionary and reformist politics remains a fundamental aspect of political life on the activist left today.
When Luxemburg wrote in 1899, this fundamental question had a historical concreteness. The socialist movement and parties of the day, having developed in a period when they were heavily influenced by the ideas of Marx, were heading towards a huge split, consummated after the outbreak of World War I. Luxemburg’s pamphlets, not to mention Lenin’s critique’s of Bernstein, were a part of resistance to a strengthening trend of a conservative opportunism. From World War I onwards, the labour movements in most countries of the world, and especially in the imperialist countries, have been dominated by reformism, embodied in the class-collaborationist trade union and labour and social democratic party bureaucracies.
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