The Mensheviks were a faction
Political faction
A political faction is a grouping of individuals, such as a political party, a trade union, or other group with a political purpose. A faction or political party may include fragmented sub-factions, “parties within a party," which may be referred to as power blocs, or voting blocs. The individuals...

 of the Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n revolutionary
A revolutionary is a person who either actively participates in, or advocates revolution. Also, when used as an adjective, the term revolutionary refers to something that has a major, sudden impact on society or on some aspect of human endeavor.-Definition:...

 movement that emerged in 1904 after a dispute between Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

 and Julius Martov
Julius Martov
Julius Martov or L. Martov was born in Constantinople in 1873...

, both members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The dispute originated at the Second Congress
2nd Congress of the RSDLP
The 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held during July 30–August 23 1903, starting in Brussels, Belgium and ending in London, because Belgian police forced the delegates to leave the country...

 of that party, ostensibly over minor issues of party organization. Martov's supporters, who were in the minority in a crucial vote on the question of party membership, came to be called "Mensheviks", derived from the Russian word меньшинство (men'shinstvo, "minority"), whereas Lenin's adherents were known as "Bolsheviks", from bol'shinstvo ("majority").

Neither side held a consistent majority over the course of the congress. The split proved to be long-standing and had to do both with pragmatic issues based in history such as the failed revolution of 1905
Russian Revolution of 1905
The 1905 Russian Revolution was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire. Some of it was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies...

, and theoretical issues of class leadership, class alliances, and bourgeois democracy. While both factions believed that a "bourgeois democratic" revolution was necessary, the Mensheviks generally tended to be more moderate and were more positive towards the "mainstream" liberal
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...


The split

At the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP
2nd Congress of the RSDLP
The 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held during July 30–August 23 1903, starting in Brussels, Belgium and ending in London, because Belgian police forced the delegates to leave the country...

 in August 1903, Lenin and Martov disagreed, first about which persons should be in the editorial committee of the party newspaper Iskra
Iskra was a political newspaper of Russian socialist emigrants established as the official organ of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Initially, it was managed by Vladimir Lenin, moving as he moved. The first edition was published in Stuttgart on December 1, 1900. Other editions were...

, and then about the definition of a "party member" in the future party statute. While the difference in the definitions was very small, with Lenin's being slightly more exclusive (Lenin's formulation required the party member to be a member of one of the party's organizations, whereas Martov's only stated that he should work under the guidance of a party organization), it was indicative of what became an essential difference between the philosophies of the two emerging factions: Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters, whereas Martov believed it was better to have a large party of activists with broad representation.

Martov's proposal was accepted by the majority of the delegates. After several delegates, including representatives of the Jewish Bund, stormed out of the Congress in protest for unrelated reasons, Lenin's supporters won a slight majority, which was reflected in the composition of the Central Committee
Central Committee
Central Committee was the common designation of a standing administrative body of communist parties, analogous to a board of directors, whether ruling or non-ruling in the twentieth century and of the surviving, mostly Trotskyist, states in the early twenty first. In such party organizations the...

 and the other central Party organs elected at the Congress. That was also the reason behind the naming of the factions. Despite the outcome of the congress, the following years saw the Mensheviks gathering considerable support among regular Social Democrats and effectively building up a parallel party organization.


In 1906, at the 4th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
4th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
The Fourth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, from April 10-25 , 1906....

, a reunification was formally achieved. In contrast to the Second Congress, the Mensheviks were in the majority from start to finish; yet, Martov's definition of a party member, which had prevailed at the First Congress, was replaced by Lenin's. On the other hand, numerous disagreements regarding alliances and strategy emerged. The two factions kept their separate structures and continued to operate separately.

Just as before, both factions believed that Russia was not developed to a point at which socialism was possible and believed that the revolution for which they fought to overthrow the Tsarist regime would be a bourgeois democratic revolution. Both believed that the working class had to contribute to this revolution. However, after 1905, the Mensheviks were more inclined to work with the liberal "bourgeois" democratic parties such as the Constitutional Democrats, because these would be the "natural" leaders of a bourgeois revolution.

In contrast, the Bolsheviks didn't believe that the Constitutional Democrats were capable of sufficiently radical struggle and tended to advocate alliances with peasant representatives and other radical socialist parties such as the Socialist Revolutionaries. In the event of a revolution, this was meant to lead to a dictatorship of the proletariat
Dictatorship of the proletariat
In Marxist socio-political thought, the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a socialist state in which the proletariat, or the working class, have control of political power. The term, coined by Joseph Weydemeyer, was adopted by the founders of Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in the...

 and the peasantry, which would carry the bourgeois revolution to the end. The Mensheviks came to argue for predominantly legal methods and trade union work, while the Bolsheviks favoured armed violence.

Some Mensheviks left the party after the defeat of 1905 and joined legal opposition organisations. After a while, Lenin's patience wore out with their compromising and in 1908 he called these Mensheviks "liquidationists
Liquidationism is a term in Marxist theory which refers to the ideological liquidation of the revolutionary party program by party members. According to the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, liquidationism "consists ideologically in negation of the revolutionary class struggle of the socialist...


In 1912, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party went through its final split, with the Bolsheviks constituting the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) and the Mensheviks the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Mensheviks).

The Menshevik faction split further in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. Most Mensheviks opposed the war, but a vocal minority supported it in terms of "national defense".

1917 Revolution

After the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty by the February Revolution
February Revolution
The February Revolution of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. Centered around the then capital Petrograd in March . Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire...

 in 1917, the Menshevik leadership led by Irakli Tsereteli
Irakli Tsereteli
Irakli Tsereteli was a Georgian politician, one of the leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and later the Georgian Mensheviks....

 demanded that the government pursue a "fair peace without annexation
Annexation is the de jure incorporation of some territory into another geo-political entity . Usually, it is implied that the territory and population being annexed is the smaller, more peripheral, and weaker of the two merging entities, barring physical size...

s", but in the meantime supported the war effort under the slogan of "defense of the revolution". Along with the other major Russian socialist party, the Socialist Revolutionaries
Socialist-Revolutionary Party
thumb|right|200px|Socialist-Revolutionary election poster, 1917. The caption in red reads "партия соц-рев" , short for Party of the Socialist Revolutionaries...

 (эсеры), the Mensheviks led the emerging network of Soviets, notably the Petrograd Soviet
Petrograd Soviet
The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies , usually called the Petrograd Soviet , was the soviet in Petrograd , Russia, established in March 1917 after the February Revolution as the representative body of the city's workers.The Petrograd Soviet became important during the Russian...

 in the capital, throughout most of 1917.

With the collapse of the monarchy, many social democrats viewed previous tactical differences between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks as a thing of the past and a number of local party organizations were merged. When Bolshevik leaders Lev Kamenev
Lev Kamenev
Lev Borisovich Kamenev , born Rozenfeld , was a Bolshevik revolutionary and a prominent Soviet politician. He was briefly head of state of the new republic in 1917, and from 1923-24 the acting Premier in the last year of Lenin's life....

, Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 and Matvei Muranov
Matvei Muranov
Matvei Konstantinovich Muranov was a Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary and a Soviet politician.-Revolutionary beginnings:Born in a peasant family in Rybtsy near Poltava, Muranov moved to Kharkov in 1900 and worked as a railroad worker...

 returned to Petrograd from Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n exile in early March 1917 and assumed the leadership of the Bolshevik party, they began exploring the idea of a complete re-unification of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the national level, which Menshevik leaders were willing to consider. However, Lenin and his deputy Grigory Zinoviev
Grigory Zinoviev
Grigory Yevseevich Zinoviev , born Ovsei-Gershon Aronovich Radomyslsky Apfelbaum , was a Bolshevik revolutionary and a Soviet Communist politician...

 returned to Russia from their Swiss exile on April 3, 1917 and re-asserted control of the Bolshevik party by late April 1917, taking it in a more radical, anti-war direction. They called for an immediate revolution and the transfer of all power to the Soviets
Soviet (council)
Soviet was a name used for several Russian political organizations. Examples include the Czar's Council of Ministers, which was called the “Soviet of Ministers”; a workers' local council in late Imperial Russia; and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union....

, which made any re-unification impossible.
In March–April 1917 the Menshevik leadership conditionally supported the newly formed liberal Russian Provisional Government
Russian Provisional Government
The Russian Provisional Government was the short-lived administrative body which sought to govern Russia immediately following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II . On September 14, the State Duma of the Russian Empire was officially dissolved by the newly created Directorate, and the country was...

. After the collapse of the first Provisional Government on May 2, 1917 over the issue of annexations, Tsereteli convinced the Mensheviks to strengthen the government for the sake of "saving the revolution" and enter a socialist-liberal coalition with Socialist Revolutionaries and liberal Constitutional Democrats, which they did on May 4, 1917 (Old Style). With Martov's return from European exile in early May, the left wing of the party challenged the party's majority led by Tsereteli at the first post-revolutionary party conference on May 9, but the Right wing prevailed 44–11. From that point on, the Mensheviks had at least one representative in the Provisional Government until it was overthrown by the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

 of 1917.

With the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks clearly diverging, Russian Mensheviks and non-factional social democrats returning from European and American exile in spring-summer of 1917 were forced to take sides. Some re-joined the Mensheviks. Some, like Alexandra Kollontai
Alexandra Kollontai
Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai was a Russian Communist revolutionary, first as a member of the Mensheviks, then from 1914 on as a Bolshevik. In 1919 she became the first female government minister in Europe...

, joined the Bolsheviks directly. A significant number, including Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 and Adolf Joffe, joined the non-factional Petrograd-based anti-war group called Mezhraiontsy
Mezhraiontsy or Mezhraionka , usually translated as the interdistrictites , officially RSDRP , was a small Petrograd-based group within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which existed between 1913 and 1917...

, which merged with the Bolsheviks in August 1917. A small but influential group of social democrats associated with Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky
Alexei Maximovich Peshkov , primarily known as Maxim Gorky , was a Russian and Soviet author, a founder of the Socialist Realism literary method and a political activist.-Early years:...

's newspaper Novaya Zhizn
Novaya Zhizn
Novaya Zhizn was the first legal newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Its first editor was Maxim Litvinov. It was edited by Bolsheviks during November-December 1905....

(New Life) refused to join either party.

After the 1917 Revolution

This split in the party crippled the Mensheviks' popularity, and they received 3.2% of the vote during the Russian Constituent Assembly
Russian Constituent Assembly
The All Russian Constituent Assembly was a constitutional body convened in Russia after the October Revolution of 1917. It is generally reckoned as the first democratically elected legislative body of any kind in Russian history. It met for 13 hours, from 4 p.m...

 election in November 1917 compared to the Bolsheviks' 25 percent and the Socialist Revolutionaries' 57 percent. The Mensheviks got just 3.3% of the national vote, but in the Transcaucasus they got 30.2% of the vote. 41.7% of their support came from the Transcaucasus. In Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

 c.75% voted for them. The right wing of the Menshevik party supported actions against the Bolsheviks, while the left wing, the majority of the Mensheviks at that point, supported the Left in the ensuing Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

. However, Martov's leftist Menshevik faction refused to break with the right wing of the party with the result that their press was sometimes banned and only intermittently available.

During World War I, some anti-war mensheviks had formed a group called Menshevik-internationalists (меньшевики-интернационалисты). They opposed war and 'social chauvinism
Social chauvinism
Social chauvinism can be described as aggressive or fanatical patriotism, particularly during time of war, in support of one's own nation versus other nation, displayed by those who are socialists or social democrats. During World War I, most left-of-centre political parties took a...

', were active around the newspaper Novaya Zhizn
Novaya Zhizn
Novaya Zhizn was the first legal newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Its first editor was Maxim Litvinov. It was edited by Bolsheviks during November-December 1905....

 and took part in the Mezhraiontsy
Mezhraiontsy or Mezhraionka , usually translated as the interdistrictites , officially RSDRP , was a small Petrograd-based group within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which existed between 1913 and 1917...

 formation. After July 1917 events in Russia, they broke with Menshevik majority that supported war. The mensheviks-internationalists became the hub of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (of internationalists) (РСДРП (интернационалистов)). In 1920, right-wing mensheviks-internationalists emigrated, some of them pursued anti-bolshevik activities.

The Democratic Republic of Georgia
Democratic Republic of Georgia
The Democratic Republic of Georgia , 1918–1921, was the first modern establishment of a Republic of Georgia.The DRG was created after the collapse of the Russian Empire that began with the Russian Revolution of 1917...

 was a stronghold of the Mensheviks. In parliamentary elections held on February 14, 1919 they won 81.5 percent of the votes, and the Menshevik leader Noe Zhordania
Noe Zhordania
Noe Zhordania was a Georgian journalist and Menshevik politician. He played an eminent role in the Social Democratic revolutionary movement in Imperial Russia, and later chaired the government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia from July 24, 1918 until March 18, 1921, when the Bolshevik Soviet...

 became Prime minister.

Prominent members of Georgian Menshevik Party were Noe Ramishvili
Noe Ramishvili
Noe Besarionis dze Ramishvili was a Georgian politician and the first Prime Minister of Georgia. He was one of the leaders of the Menshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He was also known by his party noms de guerre: Pyotr, and Semyonov N...

, Evgeni Gegechkori
Evgeni Gegechkori
Evgeni Gegechkori was a Georgian politician and Social Democratic revolutionary.He first entered the leftist student movement in 1903 during his studies at the Moscow University and soon joined the Menshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party...

, Akaki Chkhenkeli
Akaki Chkhenkeli
Akaki Chkhenkeli was a Georgian Marxist politician and publicist who acted as one of the leaders of the Menshevik movement in Russia and Georgia....

, Nikolay Chkheidze
Nikolay Chkheidze
Nikoloz Chkheidze was a Georgian Menshevik politician who helped to introduce Marxism to Georgia in the 1890s and played a prominent role in the Russian and Georgian revolutions of 1917 and 1918....

 and Alexandre Lomtatidze. After the occupation of GDR by the Bolsheviks in 1921, many Georgian Mensheviks led by Zhordania fled to Leuville-sur-Orge
Leuville-sur-Orge is a commune south of Paris, France. It is situated in the Essonne department in the Île-de-France region.Inhabitants of Leuville-sur-Orge are known as Leuvillois.-Geography:...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 where they set up, in a small castle, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in Exile
Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in Exile
The Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia continued to function as the government in exile after the Soviet Russian Red Army invaded Georgia and the Bolsheviks took over the country early in 1921....

. In 1930 Ramishvili was assassinated by a Soviet spy in Paris.

Menshevism was finally made illegal after the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921. A number of prominent Mensheviks emigrated thereafter. Martov who was suffering from ill health at this time went to Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, where he died in 1923. However, before his death he established the paper Socialist Messenger. The Socialist Messenger would move along with the Menshevik centre from Berlin to Paris in 1933 and then in 1939 to New York City, where it was to be published up until the early 1970s.

Further reading

  • Haimson, Leopold H: The Mensheviks : From the Revolution of 1917 to the Second World War
  • Haimson, Leopold H: The Making of Three Russian Revolutionaries: Voices from the Menshevik Past
  • Liebich, André: From the other shore: Russian social democracy after 1921. Cambridge, Mass., London 1997
  • Moorehead, Alan: The Russian Revolution. Harper & Brother, New York, New York 1958.
  • Shanin, Teodor: Russia, 1905-1907: Revolution as a Moment of Truth. New Haven, 1985.

See also

  • Ash heap of history
    Ash heap of history
    The ash heap of history is a figurative place to where objects such as persons, events, artifacts, ideologies, etc...

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