Martov, Yuli Osipovich

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(18731923), founder of Russian social democracy, later leader of the Menshevik party.

Born Yuli Osipovich Tsederbaum to a middleclass Jewish family in Constantinople, Yuli Martov established the St. Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class with Lenin in 1895. The following year, Martov was sentenced to three years' exile in Siberia. After serving his term, he joined Lenin in Switzerland where they launched the revolutionary Marxist newspaper Iskra. Martov broke with Lenin at the Russian Social Democratic Party's Second Congress in Brussels in 1903, when he opposed his erstwhile comrade's bid for leadership of the party and his demand for a narrow, highly centralized party of professional revolutionaries, instead calling for a broad-based party with mass membership. Lenin labelled Martov's supporters the Menshevik (minority) faction; his own followers constituted the Bolsheviks (majority). While Lenin proclaimed that socialists should respond to a successful bourgeois revolution by taking immediate steps to prepare for their own takeover of government, Martov advocated abstention from power and a strategy of militant opposition rooted in democratic institutions such as workers' soviets, trades unions, cooperatives, or town and village councils. These "organs of revolutionary self-government" would impel the bourgeois government to implement political and economic reform, which would, in time, bring about conditions favorable to a successful, peaceful, proletarian revolution. After the outbreak of war, Martov was a founder of the Zimmerwald movement, which stood for internationalism and "peace without victory" against both the "defensism" of some socialist leaders and Lenin's ambition to transform the imperialist war into a revolutionary civil war. Martov returned to Russia in mid-May 1917. His internationalist position and advocacy of militant opposition to bourgeois government brought him into open conflict with Menshevik leaders such as Irakly Tsereteli, who proclaimed "revolutionary defensism" and had days earlier entered a coalition with the Provisional Government's liberal ministers. The collapse of the first coalition ministry in early July prompted Martov to declare that the time was now ripe for the formation of a democratic government of socialist forces. On repeated occasions in subsequent months, however, his new strategy was rejected both by coalitionist Mensheviks and by Bolsheviks intent on seizing power for themselves. After November 1917, Martov remained a courageous and outspoken opponent of Lenin's political leadership and increasingly despotic methods of rule. Although the Bolsheviks repudiated his efforts to secure a role for the socialist opposition, Martov supported the new regime in its struggle against counterrevolution and foreign intervention. Regardless of this, by 1920 the Menshevik party in Russia had been destroyed, and most of its leaders and activists were in prison or exile. In this year Martov finally left Russia and settled in Berlin. There he founded and edited the Sotsialistichesky vestnik (Socialist Courier), a widely influential social democratic newspaper committed to mobilizing international radical opinion against the Bolshevik dictatorship and halting the spread of Comintern influence among democratic left-wing movements. Martov died on April 4, 1923. As his biographer has written, Martov's honesty, strong sense of principle, and deeply humane nature precluded his success as a revolutionary politician, but in opposition and exile he brilliantly personified social democracy's moral conscience (Getzler, 1994).

See also: bolshevism; lenin, vladimir ilich; mensheviks


Getzler, Israel. (1994). "Iulii Martov, the Leader Who Lost His Party in 1917." Slavonic and East European Review 72:424-439.

Getzler, Israel. (1967). Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nick Baron

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Martov, Yuli Osipovich

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