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Bolshevism

BOLSHEVISM

Bolshevism was a dissenting movement within Russian Marxism before World War I that became the founding political party of the Soviet Union. The Russian word bolshevik means literally a person in the majority, as opposed to menshevik, a person in the minority. These words originated at the second party congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) that convened in 1903 in Brussels, then London. The dominant figure in the Bolshevik faction of the RSDWP was Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov (18721924), more commonly known by his revolutionary name, Lenin.

Marxism was a radical ideology that predicted a revolution by the working classes that would seize power from the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie. The Russo-Japanese War of 19041905 indeed precipitated a revolution, but the Romanov autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II survived by a combination of reform and repression. The RSDWP originally focused its efforts on the urban working classes in Russia, but Lenin and the Bolsheviks ultimately triumphed because they recognized the need to appeal to the poor peasantry as well.

Bolsheviks were divided between educated intellectuals and factory workers. Some became professional revolutionaries. Others became leaders of the labor movement and strikers in industrial workplaces. The professional revolutionaries favored an illegal conspiracy to seize power, tracing their roots to the Jacobins of the French Revolution and the Populist terrorists of the 1870s in Russia. The working-class Social Democrats favored a revolution that would benefit workers and their families, not intellectuals seeking power.

Russian Social Democrats were inspired by the spontaneous unrest that occurred in Russia in 1905strikes, peasant violence, and demands for a constitution and a parliament. Neither Bolsheviks nor Mensheviks played a leading role that year. The October Manifesto issued by the tsar promised a constitutional system with an elected parliament, or Duma. After these concessions, the government combined peasant land reform with bloody police repression to quiet the countryside.

After 1905, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks faced new choices. Should they participate in a bourgeois parliament such as the Duma? Or should they boycott its elections and recall their deputies? Should they focus on legal means of achieving power through the system? Or should they engage in illegal actions such as terror, bank robberies, and strikes? Should they limit themselves to the working classes in the towns? Or should they look for support in the peasantry as well?

The Bolsheviks were particularly attentive to the orthodox Marxism of Karl Kautsky in Germany and the radical syndicalism of Georges Sorel and others in France and Italy. Orthodox Marxists feared any revision of Karl Marx's ideas in favor of reform rather than revolution. The syndicalists believed in forming trade unions and convincing workers to believe in a future general strike. After 1905, the Bolsheviks were deeply divided between those who, like Lenin, claimed to be following Marxist scientific orthodoxy, and those who, like Alexander Bogdanov, believed Marxism was not a set of truths, but a set of useful myths that workers might be convinced to believe. Lenin, in his book Materialism and Empirio-criticism (1909), attacked Bogdanov's relativism.

The Bolsheviks fought over who should control the party faction's money and RSDWP schools for workers and revolutionaries in Paris, Bologna, and Capri. Lenin's followers in European exile argued with Bogdanov's followers inside Russia. Although the Bolshevik journal was called Pravda (Truth), the Bolsheviks by 1914 were a shrinking group of alienated intellectuals who could agree on little except for their old feud with the Mensheviks, who maintained better ties with factory workers.

When World War I broke out in 1914, there was no great general strike. Russian socialists were divided among defensists who patriotically supported their government at war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, and pacifists who wanted to end the war. Lenin wanted the war transformed into a revolution and civil war, then a workers' revolution. But most Russian socialists, exiled either in Europe or Siberia, hardly affected the war effort.

In 1917 the February Revolution surprised both the government and the revolutionaries. Nicholas II abdicated. A liberal Provisional Government shared power with radical workers' councils, known as soviets, that sprang up in the factories, farms, and army units. Returning from exile, Lenin and the Bolsheviks proclaimed war against the Provisional Government. As the unpopular great war dragged on, the Bolshevik program of workers' revolution and land reform gained them majorities in the soviets. By October, the Bolshevik-dominated soviets easily took power in the major cities from the weakened Provisional Government.

The Bolshevik Revolution did not end the dispute between Lenin and the other Bolsheviks. Bogdanov led a proletarian culture movement popular among the masses for a few years. Leon Trotsky became a popular and independent leader of the new Red Army. And Josef Stalin quietly worked to create a single-party dictatorship that exiled or killed its enemies. By 1924 the Bolsheviks had become a party in their own right, first the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in 1918, and then the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1924. Ultimately the Bolsheviks led a massive and violent program of industrialization, collectivization of agriculture, and purges that made the Soviet Union as autocratic and unpopular as its imperial predecessor.

See also: february revolution; communism; mensheviks; october revolution; social democratic workers party

bibliography

Pomper, Phillip. (1990). Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin: The Intelligentsia in Power. New York: Columbia University Press.

Service, Robert. (2000). Lenin. A Biography. London: Macmillan.

Sochor, Zenovia. (1988). Revolution and Culture: The Bogdanov-Lenin Controversy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Ulam, Adam. (1965). The Bolsheviks: The Intellectual and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia. New York: Macmillan.

Williams, Robert C. (1986). The Other Bolsheviks: Lenin and his Critics, 19041914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Robert C. Williams

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Bolshevism

Bolshevism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Bolsheviks were the party that V. I. Lenin created in exile in 1903 and then used to conduct the successful Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917. Bolshevism is a western intellectual construct that helped to focus a debate on whether the Stalinist system was the logical consequence of Lenins principles, or whether Bolshevism was a more subtle and complex phenomenon with which Stalinism had only a tangential relationship.

Lenin firmly rejected the growing movement that promoted a peaceful evolution of socialism. In 1902 he split with his closest revolutionary allies over control of their newspaper, Iskra, and over who could join their party: Lenin insisted that the party membership be limited to those who accepted strict party discipline and the duty to work actively for the revolution. The opposition had a more western view of a decentralized party that accepted anyone who would support the party program and pay dues. When it was put to a vote, Lenin had a (narrow) majority, so he called his supporters the Bolsheviks (from bolshinstvo, majority) and his opponents the Mensheviks (from menshinstvo, minority).

The tsar responded to the Revolution of 1905 by creating a limited parliament, the Duma, and expanding political rights. Lenin was willing to use these institutions only tactically, to promote revolution, but the Mensheviks gradually became a western, social-democratic party that saw capitalism as the next long-term stage in Russian history. Other issues became politically crucial. Lenins centralized party implied a strong Russian empire, whereas the Mensheviks position implied a looser one. Lenins rigid orthodoxy implied that modern western culture was the tool of bourgeois rule, and his rejection of cooperation with liberals appealed to those who rejected westernization.

When Russias failure in World War I led to the overthrow of the tsar in March 1917, plunging Russia into chaos, Lenin rallied a large coalitionhis traditional worker-peasant support, intellectual radicals, and antiwar forces, including some in the military. In these conditions, the party was opened to all applicants, and this continued during the civil war. There is still debate about whether the broader membership of the party, together with Lenins toleration of private agriculture and trade in the New Economic Policy, would have produced a more tolerant one-party system in the Soviet Union had Lenin or an appropriate successor been chosen. Some historians contend that Lenins massive purge of party members from 1921 to 1923 and his decision to rule through the party apparatus under Stalins control suggest that the openness in 1917 and during the civil war was an aberration. The answer is unknowable.

During the late Soviet period, reformers painted a softer picture of Lenin in order to claim they were true Leninists: The modern generation is less concerned about what if questions about Lenin and more likely to focus on Bolshevisms appeals. The successes of both Lenin and Stalin rested on the peasants and first-generation workers who flowed into the cities in massive numbers. Around the world, Communism was most successful at that stage of history, and it collapsed in Russia when the nation reached a new stage of development. In other countries, however, frightened peasants moving to the cities continued to be attracted to leaders who appealed to their grievances with a rigid doctrine, a centralized control of disorder, and antiwesternism. Other doctrines that appealed to the same social forces took hold, and religious fundamentalism was the first of them.

SEE ALSO Lenin, Vladimir Ilitch; Leninism; Peasantry; Revolution; Russian Revolution; Stalin, Joseph; Stalinism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cohen, Stephen F. 1973. Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution. New York: A.A. Knopf.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 2001. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haimson, Leopold H. 2005. Russian Revolutionary Experience, 19051917. New York: Columbia University Press.

Jerry Hough

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Bolsheviks

Bolsheviks (Rus. ‘majority’) Marxist revolutionaries, led by Lenin, who seized power in the Russian Revolution of 1917. They narrowly defeated the Mensheviks at the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London (1903). The split, on tactics as much as doctrine, centred on the means of achieving revolution. The Bolsheviks believed it could be obtained only by professional revolutionaries leading the proletariat. The Bolsheviks were able to overthrow the Provisional government of Kerensky through their support in the soviets of Moscow and Petrograd. See also Marxism

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Bolshevik

Bol·she·vik / ˈbōlshəˌvik/ • n. hist. a member of the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which was renamed the Communist Party after seizing power in the October Revolution of 1917. ∎ chiefly derog. (in general use) a person with politically subversive or radical views; a revolutionary. • adj. of, relating to, or characteristic of Bolsheviks or their views or policies. DERIVATIVES: Bol·she·vism / -ˌvizəm/ n. Bol·she·vist / -vist/ n.

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Bolshevik

Bolshevik a member of the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which was renamed the Communist Party after seizing power in the October Revolution of 1917. The name is Russian, from bol′she ‘greater’, with reference to the greater faction.

The informal term bolshie meaning deliberately combative or uncooperative derives from this.


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Bolshevik

Bolshevik XX. — Russ. bo shevik, f. bó shi. compar. of bol shóì big. Orig., group favouring a maximum socialist programme. Cf. MENSHEVIK.

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Bolshevik

Bolshevikhomeopathic, polymathic, psychopathic, telepathic •ethic •Eolithic, megalithic, Mesolithic, monolithic, mythic, neolithic, Palaeolithic (US Paleolithic) •Gothic, Visigothic •Sothic • anacoluthic •Narvik, Slavic •pelvic • civic • Bolshevik • Ludovic •Keflavik • Menshevik • Reykjavik •Chadwick • candlewick • Gatwick •Sedgwick • Prestwick • bailiwick •Warwick • Brunswick • Lerwick •Herdwick • Ashkenazic • Keswick •forensic •aphasic, phasic •amnesic, analgesic, mesic •metaphysic • music

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