Substitutionism is a term in Marxist theory which refers to the relationship between the revolutionary party and the working class, where the former's activity substitutes the latter's. It is seen as an inverse to classical Marxism, where the "emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself".

There seems to be a few terms in Marxist Communism which are often taken to prove a mistake, if demonstrated, analogous to I suppose fallacious reasoning. Such as revisionism

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 and the term has been used by many different factions

Or reformism:

  1. ( Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a doctrine or movement advocating reform, esp political or religious reform, rather than abolition

Or voluntarism:

In political philosophy, voluntarism is the view that understands political authority to be will-based. This view, which was propounded by theorists like Hobbes, Rousseau, and many members of the German idealist tradition, understands political authority as emanating from a will.

Are these all types of substitutionism, from different groups, communist, proletarian, or otherwise? i.e. is it the only thing that can prevent communism? How does the idea that there is no progressive ruling class fit within the answer to that?

  • What about Fascism? Forms of national socialism in which the working class itself decides that nonmembers are simply outside the system and subject to a totally different set of laws represent a form of socialism where the workers themselves have made the error, and their will is being channeled and enforced rather than substituted. That would be an exception, but it may no longer qualify as Marxism by many counts, since Marx himself discouraged national identity as a binding force.
    – user9166
    Feb 21, 2017 at 23:44
  • @JohnAm not clear if you're adding to the question or correcting me?
    – user6917
    Feb 22, 2017 at 0:15
  • @jobermark as with johnam
    – user6917
    Feb 22, 2017 at 0:16
  • @JohnAm i'm aware of the meaning of those terms, i've spent like a decade on communist forums etc.. would appreciate a note from anyone that says why the close etc.
    – user6917
    Feb 22, 2017 at 0:25
  • Well, it seems to be an answer: it is a derivative of marxism, there is not a substitution of a party or agent for the will of the class, it requires a regressive ruling class, and that class is representative of the proletariat itself. But it is not usually thought of as a form of socialism by anyone but those taking part in it. So I am not sure enough to elaborate it as an answer.
    – user9166
    Feb 22, 2017 at 2:46

1 Answer 1


One problem in this question is that it appears to take a judgemental position on a historical phenomena: the ideological content of Marxist bodies in history. Putting that aside, let us consider all Marxist bodies as failures due to the continued presence of the commodity relationship and wage slavery.

Some failed Marxist bodies were not substitutionalist.

The second international Social Democrats who had a Fabian reformist approach were not substitutionalist in that their action didn’t replace working class self-activity. Correspondingly reformist official CPs have existed without a substitutionalist theory by retreating into “Eurocommunism,” or “the Accord Process” in Australia of class compromise and selling the class out. On the other hand these groups didn’t seek the abolition of capital on a human time scale.

The Italian workerists, and the Bordigists, and the council communists and the KAPD weren’t substitutionalist, but sought to organise an active fraction in a kind of non-vanguard method. Apart from the KAPD and Italians they didn’t do well. And the Workerists were dependent on the culture and space produced by the substitutionalist and later reformist PCI.

So the answer is no. The term “substitutionalist” does bear weight in relation to theories and practices of radical social change.

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