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Bolshevik Party Meeting. Lenin is seen at right.
Boris Kustodiev's 1920 painting "Bolshevik"

The Bolsheviks, originally also[1] Bolshevists[2] (Russian: большевики, большевик (singular) Russian pronunciation: [bəlʲʂɨˈvʲik], derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority", which comes from bol'she, "more", the comparative form of bol'shoi, "big") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) which split apart from the Menshevik faction[3] at the Second Party Congress in 1903. The Bolsheviks were the majority faction in a crucial vote, hence their name. They ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[4] The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia during the October Revolution phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and founded the Soviet Union.

The Bolsheviks, founded by Vladimir Lenin, were an organization of professional revolutionaries under a democratic internal hierarchy governed by the principle of democratic centralism, who considered themselves as the vanguard of the revolutionary working class of Russia. Their beliefs and practices were often referred to as Bolshevism. Bolshevik revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky frequently used the terms "Bolshevism" and "Bolshevist" after his exile from the Soviet Union to differentiate between what he saw as true Leninism and the regime within the state and the party which arose under Stalin.


History of the split

In the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, held in Brussels and London during August 1903, Lenin advocated limiting party membership to a smaller core of active members, as opposed to "card carriers" who might only be active in party branches from time to time or not at all. This active base would develop the cadre, a core of "professional revolutionaries", consisting of devoted communists who would spend the majority of their time organising the party toward a mass revolutionary party capable of leading a workers' revolution against the Tsarist autocracy. The base of active and experienced members would be the recruiting ground for this professional core. Sympathizers would be left outside and the party would be organised based on the concept of democratic centralism. Julius Martov, until then a close friend and colleague of Lenin, agreed with him that the core of the party should consist of professional revolutionaries, but argued that party membership should be open to sympathizers, revolutionary workers and other fellow travelers. The two had disagreed on the issue as early as March-May 1903, but it was not until the Congress that their differences became irreconcilable and split the party.[5] Although at first the disagreement appeared to be minor and inspired by personal conflicts, e.g. Lenin's insistence on dropping less active editorial board members from Iskra or Martov's support for the Organizing Committee of the Congress which Lenin opposed, the differences quickly grew and the split became irreparable.


Origins of the name

The two factions were originally known as "hard" (Lenin's supporters) and "soft" (Martov's supporters). Soon, however, the terminology changed to "Bolsheviks" and "Mensheviks", from the Russian "bolshinstvo" (majority) and "menshinstvo" (minority), based on the fact that Lenin's supporters narrowly defeated Martov's supporters on the question of party membership. Neither Lenin nor Martov had a firm majority throughout the Congress as delegates left or switched sides. At the end, the Congress was evenly split between the two factions.

From 1907 on, English language articles sometimes used the term "Maximalist" for "Bolshevik" and "Minimalist" for "Menshevik", which proved confusing since there was also a "Maximalist" faction within the Russian Socialist-Revolutionary Party in 1904–1906 (which after 1906 formed a separate Union of Socialists-Revolutionaries Maximalists‎) and then again after 1917.[6]

Beginning of the 1905 Revolution (1903–1905)

The two factions were in a state of flux in 1903–1904 with many members changing sides. The founder of Russian Marxism, Georgy Plekhanov, who was at first allied with Lenin and the Bolsheviks, parted ways with them by 1904. Leon Trotsky at first supported the Mensheviks, but left them in September 1904 over their insistence on an alliance with Russian liberals and their opposition to a reconciliation with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. He remained a self-described "non-factional social democrat" until August 1917 when he joined Lenin and the Bolsheviks as their positions converged and he came to believe that Lenin was right on the issue of the party.

The lines between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks hardened in April 1905 when the Bolsheviks held a Bolsheviks-only meeting in London, which they call the Third Party Congress. The Mensheviks organised a rival conference and the split was thus formalised.

The Bolsheviks played a relatively minor role in the 1905 Revolution, and were a minority in the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies led by Trotsky. The less significant Moscow Soviet, however, was dominated by the Bolsheviks. These soviets became the model for those formed in 1917.

("The minority") (1906–1907)

As the Russian Revolution of 1905 progressed, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and smaller non-Russian social democratic parties operating within the Russian Empire attempted to reunify at the Fourth (Unification) Congress of the RSDLP held at Folkets hus, Norra Bantorget in Stockholm, April 1906. With the Mensheviks ("The minority") striking an alliance with the Jewish Bund, the Bolsheviks found themselves in a minority. However, all factions retained their respective factional structure and the Bolsheviks formed the Bolshevik Center, the de-facto governing body of the Bolshevik faction within the RSDLP. At the next, Fifth Congress held in London in May 1907, the Bolsheviks were in the majority, but the two factions continued functioning mostly independently of each other.

Split between Lenin and Bogdanov (1908–1909)

With the defeat of the revolution in mid-1907 and the adoption of a new, highly restrictive election law, the Bolsheviks began debating whether to boycott the new parliament known as the Third Duma. Lenin and his supporters Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev argued for participating in the Duma while Lenin's deputy philosopher Alexander Bogdanov, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Mikhail Pokrovsky and others argued that the social democratic faction in the Duma should be recalled. The latter became known as recallists ("otzovists" in Russian). A smaller group within the Bolshevik faction demanded that the RSDLP central committee should give its sometimes unruly Duma faction an ultimatum, demanding complete subordination to all party decisions. This group became known as "ultimatists" and was generally allied with the recallists.

With a majority of Bolshevik leaders either supporting Bogdanov or undecided by mid-1908 when the differences became irreconcilable, Lenin concentrated on undermining Bogdanov's reputation as a philosopher. In 1909 he published a scathing book of criticism entitled Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1909),[7] assaulting Bogdanov's position and accusing him of philosophical idealism.[8] In June 1909, Bogdanov was defeated at a Bolshevik mini-conference in Paris organised by the editorial board of the Bolshevik magazine Proletary and expelled from the Bolshevik faction.[9]

Final attempt at party unity (1910)

With both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks weakened by splits within their ranks and by Tsarist repression, they were tempted to try to re-unite the party. In January 1910, Leninists, recallists and various Menshevik factions held a meeting of the party's Central Committee in Paris. Kamenev and Zinoviev were dubious about the idea, but were willing to give it a try under pressure from "conciliator" Bolsheviks like Victor Nogin. Lenin was adamantly opposed to any re-unification, but was outvoted within the Bolshevik leadership. The meeting reached a tentative agreement and one of its provisions made Trotsky's Vienna-based Pravda a party-financed 'central organ'. Kamenev, Trotsky's brother-in-law, was added to the editorial board from the Bolsheviks, but the unification attempts failed in August 1910 when Kamenev resigned from the board amid mutual recriminations.

Forming a separate party (1912)

The factions permanently broke off relations in January 1912 after the Bolsheviks organised a Bolsheviks-only Prague Party Conference and formally expelled Mensheviks and recallists from the party. As a result, they ceased to be a faction in the RSDLP and instead declared themselves an independent party, which they called RSDLP (Bolshevik).

Although the Bolshevik leadership decided to form a separate party, convincing pro-Bolshevik workers within Russia to follow suit proved difficult. When the first meeting of the Fourth Duma was convened in late 1912, only one out of six Bolshevik deputies, Matvei Muranov, (another one, Roman Malinovsky, was later exposed as a secret police agent) voted to break away from the Menshevik faction within the Duma on 15 December 1912.[10] The Bolshevik leadership eventually prevailed and the Bolsheviks formed their own Duma faction in September 1913.

Political philosophy

The Bolsheviks believed in organising a party in a centralised and disciplined fashion that sought to overthrow the Tsar through a mass workers' revolution. They believed and succeeded in creating a vanguard party, a mass revolutionary party composed of what they called "the most militant and class-conscious" workers capable of leading the masses of Russian workers. Although the Bolsheviks were not monolithic, they were characterised by a rigid adherence to the leadership of the central committee, based on the principles of democratic centralism. The Mensheviks favored open party membership and espoused cooperation with the other socialist and some non-socialist groups in Russia. Bolsheviks generally refused to co-operate with liberal or radical parties, viewing them as "bourgeois" parties, or even eventually other socialist organisations, although Lenin sometimes made tactical alliances.

Left to right: Trotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev

From Bolshevism to Communism

In 1952 at XIX Party Congress Stalin declared: "There are no more Mensheviks. Why should we call ourselves Bolsheviks? We are not the majority, but the whole party." According to his suggestion, the Bolshevik party was renamed the Communist Party of Soviet Union. Since that time, the term Bolshevik has been regarded as obsolete, and relevant only to the pre-Revolutionary times, during the Russian Revolution itself and the Russian Civil War which followed.

Derogatory usage of "Bolshevik"

During the days of the Cold War in the United Kingdom, labour union leaders and other leftists were sometimes derisively described as "Bolshie". The usage is roughly equivalent to the term "Commie", "Red" or "pinko" in the United States during the same period. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi leaders used it in reference to the worldwide revolutionary movement coordinated by the Soviet Union.[11].

See also

Related ideologies

Non-Russian/Soviet groups having used the name "Bolshevik"


  1. ^ Ushakov's Explanatory Dictionary of Russian Language, article "Большевистский"
  2. ^ Dictionaries define the word "Bolshevist" both as a synonym to "Bolshevik" and as an adherent of Bolshevik policies.
  3. ^ Derived from men'shinstvo, "minority", which comes from men'she, "less". The split occurred at the Second Party Congress in 1903.
  4. ^ After the split, the Bolshevik party was designated as RSDLP(b) (Russian: РСДРП(б)), where "b" stands for "Bolsheviks". Shortly after coming to power in November 1917 the party changed its name to the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (РКП(б)) and was generally known as the Communist Party after that point, however, it was not until 1952 that the party formally dropped the word "Bolshevik" from its name. (See Congress of the CPSU article for the timeline of name changes.)
  5. ^ See Israel Getzler. Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat, Cambridge University Press, 2003 (first edition 1967), ISBN 0-521-52602-7 p.78
  6. ^ See Étienne Antonelli, Bolshevik Russia, A.A. Knopf, 1920, tr. by Charles A. Carroll, 307pp.: "the term "Maximalist" rather widely used as a translation for "Bolshevik" is historically false." (p.59)
  7. ^ First published in Moscow in May 1909 by Zveno Publishers, available online
  8. ^ See Alan Woods. Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution, Wellred Publications, 1999, ISBN 1-900007-05-3 Part Three: The Period of Reaction available online
  9. ^ English language excerpts from the resolution are quoted in A Documentary History of Communism in Russia, ed. Robert V. Daniels, UPNE, 1993, ISBN 0-87451-616-1 p.33
  10. ^ Robert B. McKean, St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions: workers and revolutionaries, June 1907-February 1917, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1990, pp. 140-1.
  11. ^ (Collins Mini Dictionary, 1998)

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

"BOLSHEVISM, the name given since the Russian revolution to the form of Communism adopted under the Soviet system of government. Bolshevism as a doctrine and an organization is not of purely Russian growth; it is a branch of European Communism. The development of the latter is discussed in the article Communism. The earliest and most powerful expression of modern Communism is to be found in the Communist Manifesto drawn up by K. Marx and F. Engels in 1847. This Manifesto has remained a kind of gospel for extreme Communists, and its pronouncements served as a guidance in the attempt of the Russian Bolsheviks (Russian for" Majority "party) to create a Communist republic in Russia. Another element in the circle of ideas appropriated by the Bolsheviks was provided by the activity of Bakunin, the indefatigable Russian anarchist, who fought for world revolution in 1849 in Dresden and in 1870 in Lyons, and who passed 12 years of his life in prison and in exile. He was an admirer of Marx's learning and analytical power, but he would never submit to the tyrannical pedantry of Marx's school and stood up for an elemental awaking of revolutionary instincts. State and law were enemies to be fought and overthrown without any regard for tradition or practical considerations. A third element was introduced by the rise of militant syndicalism in France (see Syndicalism). These three currents combined to produce the three fundamental ideas of Bolshevism: the conquest of society by the proletariat class, the power of revolutionary instinct and the dictatorship of a compact minority.

The combination proved admirably adapted in Russia for the practical purpose of the overthrow of the previously existing order. Theoretically it was a compound of contradictory elements. This was clearly discerned and exposed by a leading Marxist writer, Kautsky. He said in his book on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat:-" The Socialist party which governs Russia to-day gained power in fighting against other Socialist parties, and exercises its authority while excluding other Socialist parties from the executive.

"The antagonism of the two Socialist movements is not based on small personal jealousies: it is the clashing of two fundamentally distinct methods, that of democracy and that of dictatorship.

" For us, therefore, Socialism without democracy is unthinkable."Kautsky had no difficulty in showing that, in consequence of this fundamental flaw, the practical results of Soviet rule were deplorable. It was obliged to work by means of an unwieldy bureaucracy:" The absolute rule of bureaucracy leads to its ossification, to arbitrariness and stultification. The forcible suppression of all opposition is its guiding principle. How can a dictatorship remain at the helm against the will of the majority of the people?

"In circumstances where the majority of the population mistrust the proletarian party, or stand aloof from it, this attitude would be shared by the bulk of the intellectuals. In that case, a victorious party would not only be without great intellectual superiority to the rest of the people, but would even be inferior to its opponents in this regard, although its outlook in general social matters might be a much higher one.

" The method of Paraguay is therefore not practicable in Europe. There remains to * be considered the method adopted by Napoleon the First on Brumaire 18 1799, and his nephew, the third Napoleon, on Dec. 2 1852. This consists in governing by the aid of the superiority of a centralized organization to the unorganized masses of the people, and the superiority of military power, arising from the fact that the armed force of the Government is opposed to a people who are defenseless or tired of the armed struggle.

"Can a Socialist system of production be built up on this foundation? This means the organization of production by society, and requires economic self-government throughout the whole mass of the people. State organization of production by a bureaucracy, or by the dictatorship of a single section of the people, does not mean Socialism. Socialism presupposes that broad masses of the people have been accustomed to organization, that numerous economic and political organizations exist, and can develop in perfect freedom. The Socialist organization of Labour is not an affair of barracks." No wonder that Lenin and Trotsky were highly incensed by Kautsky's criticism. They excommunicated him as a traitor to the cause, along with other Socialist leaders. But it was significant that they had to adopt the badge of "Communism" in order to mark their precise position in the field of rival doctrines. They had ceased to be Socialists in the accepted sense of the term.

The course taken by Bolshevist rule in Russia is narrated in the article Russia.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary





Bolshevism (uncountable)

  1. The strategy used by the Bolsheviks in attempting to gain power in Russia
  2. Marxism-Leninism


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