AskDefine | Define reformist

Dictionary Definition

reformist adj : favoring or promoting reform (often by government action) [syn: progressive, reform-minded] n : a disputant who advocates reform [syn: reformer, crusader, meliorist]

User Contributed Dictionary



reform + -ist


reformist (sometimes capitalized)
  1. One who advocates reform in the Church; a Reformer. (Common in 17th c.)
    • 1589: Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation or a new praise of the old asse 11 Addit. F f, - The forward Zeale of dowtie Martin Seniour, ... and some other bragge Reformistes.
    • 1590: Greenwood, Confer. Pref. A ij, Considering the reformist Preachers are now become the BB's trustie actors.
    • 1608: H. Clapham, Errour Left Hand 36 He differs much from the most of our Reformistes heere at home.
    • 1693: J. Edwards, Author, O. & N. Test. 310 Among the reformists you will see this more plainly attested.
    • 1791: Frances Burney (later Mme. D'Arblay), Diary 3 Aug. - The winton inhabitants … ran up a slight wall before it [the altar], and deceived the Reformists.
    • 1826: W. E. Andrews, Crit. Rev. Fox's Bk. Mart. II. 312 Their judges were cold and calculating reformists.
    • 1850: Elder's House 97 So you see that all the Reformists have not given up the doctrine of confession.
    • 1882: Macm. Mag. XLV 449 Mrs. Ashley … was put into the Tower, apparently on suspicion of Reformist sympathies.
  2. An advocate or supporter of political reform. (Common c 1792 to 1830.)
    • 1641: News from Hell, etc. in Harl. Misc. (Malh.) IV. 393 The subtle practices of some parliamentary reformists.
    • 1792: Windham, Speeches Parl. (1812) I. App. C. 155 Yet these [the Jacobins] are the men whom our Reformists are known to correspond with.
    • 1817: Jeremy Bentham, Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the Form of a Catechism, 104 - By a radical reformist, the Householder plan could not be refused to any Electoral District.
    • 1830: Lady Granville, Lett. (1894) II. 62, I have been to see the Staffords, violent reformists.
    • 1893: Columbus (Ohio) Disp. 10 July. The general policy of the party has been enough to break the strength of the so-called Reformists.
  3. : A member of a reformed religious order. (Frères Mineurs de l'Étroite-Observance en Italie or Riformati). There were apparently three orders known as "Réformés" but Cotgrave applies this to only the one noted. See Hélyot.
    • 1611: Randle Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues - Reformez, Reformists an Order of Franciscan Fryers. See Cotgrave
    • 1707: Phillips (ed. Kersey), Reformists, Monks, whose Discipline, or Rules have been reformed.


  1. advocating political reform
    • 1849: Edgar Allan Poe, "Marginalia" Part XVI in Southern Literary Messenger'', July 1849 - The modern reformist Philosophy which annihilates the individual by way of aiding the mass; and the late reformist Legislation, which prohibits pleasure with the view of advancing happiness, seem to be chips of that old block of a French feudal law which, to prevent young partridges from being disturbed, imposed penalites upon hoeing and weeding.
    • 1913 Émile Faguet, Initiation into Literature translated by Sir Home Gordon, Bart - all the prose is German, all reformist, all moralising, and has little or practically no echo of antiquity.


  • Hélyot, Dictionnaire des Ordres Religieux, Paris, Migne, 1850
(Entry for reformist in the Oxford English Dictionary, first edition.)

Extensive Definition

Socialist Reformism is the belief that gradual democratic changes in a society can ultimately change a society's fundamental economic relations and political structures. This belief grew out of opposition to revolutionary socialism, which contends that revolutions are necessary to fundamentally change a society.
Socialist reformism was first put forward by Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, two leading social democrats. Reformism was quickly targeted by revolutionary socialists, with Rosa Luxemburg condeming Bernstein's Evolutionary Socialism in her 1900 essay Reform or Revolution?. While Luxemburg died in the German Revolution, the reformists soon found themselves contending with the Bolsheviks and their satellite communist parties for the support of the proletariat. After the Bolsheviks won the Russian Civil War and consolidated power in the Soviet Union, they launched a targeted campaign against the Reformist movement by denouncing them as "social fascists." Arthur Koestler, a former member of the Communist Party of Germany, the largest communist party in Western Europe in the interwar period, confessed in The God That Failed that communists aligned with the Soviet Union continued to consider the "social fascist" Social Democratic Party of Germany to be the real enemy in Germany--even after the Nazi Party had usurped power.
In modern times, Reformists are seen as centre-left. Some social democratic parties, such as the Canadian NDP and the Social Democratic Party of Germany, are still considered to be reformist.

Reformism in the United Kingdom's Labour Party

The term was applied to elements within the United Kingdom Labour Party in the 1950s and subsequently, on the party's right. Anthony Crosland wrote The Future of Socialism (1956) as a personal manifesto arguing for a reformulation of the term. For Crosland, the relevance of nationalization (or public ownership) for socialists was much reduced as a consequence of contemporary full employment, Keynesian management of the economy and reduced capitalist exploitation. In 1960, after the third successive defeat of his party in the 1959 General Election Hugh Gaitskell attempted to reformulate the original wording of Clause IV in the party's constitution, but proved unsuccessful.
Some of the younger followers of Gaitskell, principally Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams left the Labour Party in 1981 to found the Social Democratic Party, but the central objective of the Gaitskellites was eventually achieved by Tony Blair in his successful attempt to rewrite Clause IV in 1995.
The use of the term is distinguished from the gradualism associated with Fabianism (the ideology of the Fabian Society), which itself should not be seen as being in parallel with the revisionism associated Bernstein and the German SPD, as originally the Fabians had explicitly rejected Marxism

See also

Reformist thinkers

Reformist organizations

Reformist ideology

Competing ideologies



External links

  • [ reform v. to improve (an existing institution, law, practice, etc) by alteration or by correction of abuses or malpractices; n. a principle, campaign, or measure aimed at achieving such change]
  • Reform or Revolution? by Rosa Luxemburg (1900)
reformist in Catalan: Reformisme
reformist in German: Reformismus
reformist in Spanish: reformismo
reformist in Italian: Riformismo
reformist in Japanese: 社会改良主義
reformist in Lithuanian: Reformizmas
reformist in Dutch: Reformisme
reformist in Norwegian Nynorsk: Reformisme
reformist in Slovak: Reformizmus
reformist in Finnish: Reformismi
reformist in Swedish: Reformism
reformist in Chinese: 改良主义
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