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Irreparable Split

The Revolutionary Masses

Although for the moment they were technically two factions of a single party, and despite several later attempts at reunification, the split between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks proved irreparable. Only for a short period during the heady days of the Revolution of 1905 the two wings of Russian Social-Democracy were able to overcome their differences.  

Bolshevik. By Kustodiyev

However, after 1905 disagreements amongst Russian Marxists surfaced again and the split between them began to widen. The Mensheviks continued to believe in a mass organization, open to all revolutionaries who were  free to engage in democratic discussions within the party. They were in favor of an alliance with all other revolutionary and liberal parties and gave support to trade unions in pursuing better wages and conditions for workers. They were circumspect in their assessment of the viability of a proletarian revolution in Russia and insisted that the bourgeois stage had to occur first, so as to enable all the necessary preconditions for a socialist revolution to mature.

By contrast, Lenin’s faction proceeded to organize itself on the principles of a tight-knit underground party of professional revolutionaries subordinated to the will and authority of its supreme leadership in the form of the Central Committee. It rejected co-operation with other parties and dismissed the struggle for improved conditions of workers as playing into the hands of the bourgeoisie and distracting them from their vital political task of revolution. The Bolsheviks also gradually fell in line with Lenin’s unorthodox idea of merging the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions into one.

By 1912 the split between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks had become permanent, with the two factions evolving effectively into two separate parties. In the years and months leading to the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, as the workers’ mood became more militant, the Mensheviks lost their working-class support to the Bolsheviks. As they believed that capitalism would exist for some time, the Mensheviks were reluctant to undermine the property rights of capitalists and landlords and to force the pace of events towards revolution. As a consequence of this view, they were perceived by the working classes as a less radical party with closer links to the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, saw no need to compromise with a bourgeoisie they intended to overthrow. They could therefore support workers’ control in industry, or peasant control of the land. For Russia’s peasants and workers such a program had much greater appeal. They increasingly sided with the Bolsheviks whom they saw as more ‘working-class’ and more revolutionary.

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The Birth of Bolshevism


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
The Birth of Bolshevism
The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
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