The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists[a] or Bolsheviki
(Russian: большевики, большевик (singular),
IPA: [bəlʲʂɨˈvʲik]; derived from большинство
bol'shinstvo, "majority", literally meaning "one of the majority"),
were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
(RSDLP) which split apart from the
Menshevik faction[b] at the Second
Party Congress in 1903. The RSDLP was a revolutionary socialist
political party formed in 1898 in
Belarus to unite the
various revolutionary organisations of the
Russian Empire into one
In the Second Party Congress vote, the
Bolsheviks won on the majority
of important issues, hence their name. They ultimately became the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[c] The Bolsheviks, or Reds, came
to power in
Russia during the
October Revolution phase of the Russian
Revolution of 1917 and founded the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist
Republic (RSFSR). With the Reds defeating the Whites and others during
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War of 1917–1922, the RSFSR became the chief
constituent of the
Soviet Union in December 1922.
The Bolsheviks, founded by
Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov, were
by 1905 a major organization consisting primarily of workers under a
democratic internal hierarchy governed by the principle of democratic
centralism, who considered themselves the leaders of the revolutionary
working class of Russia. Their beliefs and practices were often
referred to as Bolshevism.
1 History of the split
1.1 Origins of the name
1.2 Composition of the party
1.3 Beginning of the 1905 Revolution (1903–1905)
Mensheviks ("The minority") (1906–1907)
1.5 Split between Lenin and Bogdanov (1908–10)
1.6 Final attempt at party unity (1910)
1.7 Forming a separate party (1912)
2 Derogatory usage of "Bolshevik"
2.1 Non-Russian/Soviet groups having used the name "Bolshevik"
3 See also
6 External links
History of the split
Part of a series on
Commanding heights of the economy
Theory of the productive forces
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh Thought
Ho Chi Minh
Josip Broz Tito
Wage Labour and Capital
Materialism and Empirio-criticism
What Is to Be Done?
The State and Revolution
Hungarian Soviet Republic
Spanish Civil War
World War II
Greek Civil War
Portuguese Colonial War
Black Power movement
Nepalese Civil War
Internal conflict in Peru
Boris Kustodiev's 1920 painting "Bolshevik"
In the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party,
held in Brussels and London during August 1903, Lenin and Julius
Martov disagreed over the membership rules. Lenin wanted members "who
recognise the Party Programme and support it by material means and
by personal participation in one of the party's organisations." Julius
Martov suggested "by regular personal assistance under the direction
of one of the party's organisations." 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 loyal communists who
would spend most of their time organising the party toward a mass
revolutionary party capable of leading a workers' revolution against
the Tsarist autocracy.
A main source of the factions could be directly attributed to Lenin's
steadfast opinion and unwillingness to "bear opinions which were
contrary to his own".[attribution needed] It was obvious at early
stages in Lenin's revolutionary practices that he would not be willing
to concede on any party policy that conflicted with his own
predetermined ideas. It was the loyalty that he had to his own
self-envisioned utopia that caused the party split. He was seen even
by fellow party members as being so narrow minded that he believed
that there were only two types of people: "Friend and enemy—those
who followed him, and all the rest." Leon Trotsky, one of Lenin's
fellow revolutionaries (though they had differing views as to how the
revolution and party should be handled), compared Lenin in 1904 to the
French revolutionary Robespierre. Lenin's view of politics as
verbal and ideological warfare and his inability to accept criticism
even if it came from his own dedicated followers was the reason behind
The root of the split was a book titled
What is to be Done?
What is to be Done? that Lenin
wrote while serving a sentence of exile. In Germany, the book was
published in 1902; in Russia, strict censorship outlawed its
publication and distribution. One of the main points of Lenin's
writing was that a revolution can only be achieved by the strong
leadership of one person (or of a very select few people) over the
masses. After the proposed revolution had successfully overthrown the
government, this individual leader must release power, to allow
socialism to fully encompass the nation. Lenin also wrote that
revolutionary leaders must dedicate their entire lives to the cause in
order for it to be successful. Lenin said that if professional
revolutionaries did not maintain control over the workers then they
would lose sight of the party's objective and adopt opposing beliefs,
and even abandon the revolution entirely. Lenin's view of a
socialist intelligentsia showed that he was not a complete supporter
of Marxist theory, which also created some party unrest. For example,
Lenin agreed with the Marxist idea of eliminating social classes, but
in his utopian society there would still be visible distinctions
between those in politics and the common worker. Most party members
considered unequal treatment of workers immoral, and were loyal to the
idea of a completely classless society, so Lenin's variations caused
the party internal dissonance. Although the party split of Bolsheviks
Mensheviks would not become official until 1903, the differences
originally began to surface with the publication of What is to be
Done?. Through the influence of the book, Lenin also undermined
another group of reformers known as "Economists", who were pushing for
economic reform while wanting to leave the government relatively
unchanged, and who failed to recognize the importance of uniting the
working population behind the party's cause.[non-primary source
Other than the debate between Lenin and Julius Martov; Lenin felt
membership should require support of the Party program, financial
contributions, and finally involvement in a Party organization whereas
Martov didn't see the need for joining Party organizations, internal
unrest also rose over the structure that was best suited for Soviet
power.[page needed] As discussed in What is to be Done?,
Lenin firmly believed that a rigid political structure was needed to
effectively initiate a formal revolution. This idea was met with
opposition from his once close followers including Julius Martov,
Georgy Plekhanov, Leon Trotsky, and Pavel
Georgy Plekhanov and Lenin's major
dispute arose addressing the topic of nationalizing land or leaving it
for private use. Lenin wanted to nationalize to aid in
collectivization. Plekhanov thought worker motivation would remain
higher if individuals were able to maintain their own property. Those
who opposed Lenin and wanted to continue on the Marxist path towards
complete socialism and disagreed with his strict party membership
guidelines became known as "softs" while Lenin supporters became known
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. Martov, until then a close friend 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. At first the disagreement
appeared to be minor and inspired by personal conflicts. For example,
Lenin's insistence on dropping less active editorial board members
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). On the
other hand, Martov's supporters won the vote concerning 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
Socialist-Revolutionary Party in 1904–06 (which after
1906 formed a separate Union of Socialists-Revolutionaries
Maximalists) and then again after 1917.
Composition of the party
The average party member was very young. In 1907, 22% of Bolsheviks
were under 20, 37% were 20–24 and 16% were 25–29. By 1905, 62% of
the members were industrial workers (3% of the population in
1897). 22% of
Bolsheviks were gentry (1.7% of the total
population), 38% were uprooted peasants, compared with 19% and 26% for
the Mensheviks. In 1907, 78.3% of the
Bolsheviks were Russian and 10%
were Jewish (34% and 20% for the Mensheviks). Total membership was
8,400 in 1905, 13,000 in 1906 and 46,100 by 1907 (8,400, 18,000,
38,200 respectively for the Mensheviks). By 1910, both factions
together had fewer than 10,000 members.
Beginning of the 1905 Revolution (1903–1905)
The two factions were in a state of flux in 1903–04 with many
members changing sides. The founder of Russian Marxism, Georgy
Plekhanov, who was at first allied with
Vladimir 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 assembled and he
came to believe that Lenin was right on the issue of the party.
All but one member of the Central Committee were arrested in
early 1905. The remaining member, with the power of appointing a new
one, was won over by the Bolsheviks.
The lines between the
Bolsheviks and the
Mensheviks hardened in April
1905 when the
Bolsheviks held a Bolsheviks-only meeting in London,
which they called the Third Party Congress. The
Mensheviks organised a
rival conference and the split was thus formalised.
Bolsheviks played a relatively minor role in the 1905 Revolution,
and were a minority in the
Saint 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.
Mensheviks ("The minority") (1906–1907)
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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. When the
Mensheviks struck an alliance with the
Jewish Bund, the
Bolsheviks found themselves in a minority.
However, all factions retained their respective factional structure
Bolsheviks formed the Bolshevik Centre, the de facto governing
body of the Bolshevik faction within the RSDLP. At the Fifth Congress
held in London in May 1907, the
Bolsheviks were in the majority, but
the two factions continued functioning mostly independently of each
Split between Lenin and Bogdanov (1908–10)
Tensions had existed between Lenin and Bogdanov as early as 1904:
Lenin had fallen out with Nikolai Valentinov, after the latter had
introduced him to Ernst Mach's Empiriocriticism, a viewpoint that
Bogdanov had been exploring and developing as Empiriomonism. Having
worked as co-editor with Plekhanov on Zayra he had come to agree with
the latter's rejection of Bogdanov's Empiriomonism. 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, Grigory
Lev Kamenev and others argued for participating in the Duma
while 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 most 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 Empirio-criticism (1909), assaulting Bogdanov's position and
accusing him of philosophical idealism. In June 1909, Bogdanov
proposed the formation of Party Schools as "Proletarian Universities"
at a Bolshevik mini-conference in
Paris organised by the editorial
board of the Bolshevik magazine
Proletary in June 1909. However, this
was not accepted and Lenin tried to expel him from the Bolshevik
faction. Bogdanov was then involved with setting up Vpered, which
ran the Capri Party School from August to December 1909.
Final attempt at party unity (1910)
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.
One of the more underlying reasons that aided in preventing any
reunification of the party was the Russian police. The police were
able to infiltrate both parties' inner circles by sending in spies who
then reported on the opposing party's intentions and hostilities.
This allowed the tensions to remain high between the
Mensheviks. In turn it prevented them from uniting under common ground
which could have possibly sped up the entire revolution.
Lenin was firmly 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
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, called Russian Social Democratic
Labour Party (bolsheviks) – or RSDLP(b). Unofficially the Party has
been referred to as the "Bolshevik Party". Throughout the century, the
Party adopted a number of different names. In 1918, RSDLP(b) became
Communist Party (bolsheviks) and remained so until 1925.
From 1925–52 the name was All-Union
Communist Party (bolsheviks),
and from 1952–1991
Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
As the party split became permanent and politically recognized in 1912
due to an all Bolshevik meeting of Congress further divisions became
evident. One of the most notable differences was how each faction
decided to fund its revolution. The
Mensheviks decided to fund their
revolution through membership dues while Lenin often resorted to much
more drastic measures since he required a higher budget. One of
the common methods the
Bolsheviks used was committing bank robberies,
one of which in 1907 resulted in the party gaining over 250,000 rubles
which is the equivalent of about $125,000.
Bolsheviks were in
constant need of money because Lenin practiced his beliefs exercised
in his writings that revolutions must be led by individuals who devote
their entire life to the cause. To compensate he awarded them with
salaries for their sacrifice and dedication. This measure was taken to
help ensure that the revolutionists stayed focused on their duties and
motivated them to perform their jobs. Lenin also used the party money
to print and copy pamphlets which were distributed in cities and at
political rallies in attempts to expand their operations. This was an
obvious difference between the
beliefs. Both factions also managed to gain funds simply by receiving
donations from wealthy supporters.
Further differences in party agendas became evident as the beginning
of World War I loomed near. Stalin was especially eager for the start
of the war, hoping that it would turn into a war between classes or
essentially a Russian Civil War. This desire for war was fueled by
Lenin's vision that the workers and peasants would resist joining the
war effort, and therefore be more compelled to join the socialist
movement. Through the increase in support
Russia would then be forced
to withdraw from the Allied Powers in order to resolve her internal
conflict. Unfortunately for the Bolsheviks, Lenin's assumptions were
incorrect and despite his and the party's attempts to push for a civil
war through involvement in two conferences in 1915 and 1916 in
Switzerland the party remained in the minority in calling for the
ceasefire by the Russian Army in World War I.
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 an Okhrana
[Tsarist secret police] agent) voted to break away from the Menshevik
faction within the Duma on 15 December 1912. The Bolshevik
leadership eventually prevailed and the
Bolsheviks formed their own
Duma faction in September 1913.
One final difference between the
Mensheviks was simply
how ferocious and tenacious the party was willing to be in order to
achieve its goals. Lenin was open minded to retreating on political
ideas if he saw the guarantee of long term gains benefiting the party.
This practice was commonly seen trying to recruit peasants and
uneducated workers by promising them how glorious life would be after
the revolution. His approach was "land seizure for the peasants and
national self-determination for the minorities – as nothing more
than temporary concessions."
In 1918, at Lenin's suggestion, the party renamed itself the Russian
Communist Party (Bolsheviks). In 1925, this was changed to All-Union
Communist Party (Bolsheviks). In 1952, at the 19th Party Congress,
according to Stalin's suggestion, the Bolshevik party was renamed the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Derogatory usage of "Bolshevik"
"Down with Bolshevism. Bolshevism brings war and destruction, hunger
and death", anti-Bolshevik propaganda, Germany, 1919
"Bolo" was a derogatory expression for
Bolsheviks used by British
service personnel in the
North Russian Expeditionary Force
North Russian Expeditionary Force which
intervened against the
Red Army during the Russian Civil War.
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and other Nazi leaders used it in
reference to the worldwide political movement coordinated by the
Comintern. During the days of the
Cold War in the United Kingdom,
labour union leaders and other leftists were sometimes derisively
described as "Bolshies". The usage is roughly equivalent to the term
"Commie", "Red", or "pinko" in the
United States during the same
period. The term "Bolshie" later became a slang term for anyone who
was rebellious, aggressive, or truculent.
Non-Russian/Soviet groups having used the name "Bolshevik"
Bangladesh: Maoist Bolshevik Reorganisation Movement of the Purba
Banglar Sarbahara Party
Burkina Faso: Burkinabé Bolshevik Party
India: Bolshevik Party of India
India/Sri Lanka: Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma
India: Revolutionary Socialist Party (Bolshevik)
Senegal: Bolshevik Nuclei
Sri Lanka: Bolshevik Samasamaja Party
Turkey: Bolshevik Party (North Kurdistan – Turkey)
Left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks
Soviet Revolutionary Communists (Bolsheviks)
^ Both a synonym to "Bolshevik" and an adherent of Bolshevik
^ Derived from меньшинство men'shinstvo, "minority", which
comes from меньше men'she, "less". The split occurred at the
Second Party Congress in 1903.
^ 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
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
Congress of the CPSU article for the
timeline of name changes.
^ "Большевистский", Ushakov's Explanatory Dictionary of
Russian Language .
^ "Bolshevist", Dictionary, Dictionary.reference.com
^ "Bolsheviki Seize State Buildings, Defying Kerensky". The New York
Times. 7 November 1917. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1998). The Soviet Experiment. London: Oxford
University Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-19-508105-3.
^ Shub 1976, p. 81.
^ Service, Robert (2010). Lenin : a biography (paperback)format=
requires url= (help). London: Pan. p. 154.
^ Shub 1976, p. 76.
^ a b Pipes 1995, p. 104.
^ a b Pipes 1995, p. 106.
^ a b Formation of the Russian social-democratic labor party.
Appearance of the bolshevik & the menshevik groups within the
party. New York: International Publishers. 1939.
^ Tucker 1975.
^ Tucker 1975, p. xxxviii.
^ Getzler, Israel (2003) , Martov: A Political Biography of a
Russian Social Democrat, Cambridge University Press, p. 78,
ISBN 0-521-52602-7 .
^ Wilson, Edmund (1977). To the Finland Station. London: Fontana.
p. 402. ISBN 0-00-632420-7.
^ Antonelli, Étienne (1920), Bolshevik Russia, Charles A. Carroll
trans, AA Knopf, p. 59, the term 'Maximalist' rather widely used
as a translation for 'Bolshevik' is historically false. 307 pp.
^ Ascher, Abraham, The Revolution of 1905, p. 4 .
^ Cliff, Tony, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, p. 37 .
^ Pipes, Richard, The Russian Revolution, pp. 364–5 .
^ McDaniel, Tim, Autocracy, capitalism, and revolution in Russia,
p. 246 .
^ Biggart, John (1989). Alexander Bogdanov, left-Bolshevism and the
Proletkult 1904–1932. Norwich: University of East Angla.
^ Wolfe, Bertram D. (1966). Three Who Made a Revolution. London:
Penguin. p. 410. ISBN 0-14-020783-X.
^ Materialism & Empiriocriticism, Moscow: Zveno Publishers, May
^ Woods, Alan (1999), "Part Three: The Period of Reaction",
Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution, Wellred,
ISBN 1-900007-05-3 .
^ Daniels, Robert V, ed. (1993), A Documentary History of
Russia, UPNE, p. 33, ISBN 0-87451-616-1 .
^ Marot, John Eric (July 1990). "Alexander Bogdanov, Vpered, and the
Role of the Intellectual in the Workers' Movement". Russian Review.
Blackwell. 49 (3 (
Special Issue on Alexander Bogdanov)): 241–64.
^ Pipes 1995, p. 109.
^ a b c Pipes 1995, p. 108.
^ a b Pipes 1995, p. 111.
^ McKean, Robert B (1990), St. Petersburg Between the Revolutions:
workers and revolutionaries, June 1907 – February 1917, New Haven:
Yale University Press, pp. 140–1 .
North Russian Expeditionary Force
North Russian Expeditionary Force 1919, Scrapbook Diary,
Photographs, Mementoes", Naval History, retrieved 14 June 2012 .
^ Collins Mini Dictionary, 1998.
^ "bolshie". The free dictionary. Retrieved 2014-03-08.
Pipes, Richard (1995), A concise History of the Russian Revolution,
New York, ISBN 978-0-679-42277-8 .
Shub, David (1976), Lenin : a biography (rev. ed.),
Harmondsworth: Penguin, ISBN 978-0-14020809-2 .
Tucker, Robert (1975), The Lenin Anthology, New York: WW Norton &
Co, ISBN 978-0-393-09236-3 .
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bolsheviks.
Look up Bolshevik or Bolshevism in Wiktionary, the free
Wikisource has the text of the 1922
Encyclopædia Britannica article
Woods, Alan, Bolshevism, the Road to Revolution, Marxist .
"Chronology of the Bolshevik Party World History Database", Dates of
Brinton, Maurice, The
Bolsheviks and Workers Control, Libcom .
The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism at
Project Gutenberg by Bertrand
Russell, November 1920
Bobrovskaya, Cecilia, Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of a
File Bolshevik, Marxists, archived from the original on
Schulman, Jason (December 28, 2017), Bolshevism, Real and Imagined,
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