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This article is about the Mensheviks as a faction inside the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Mensheviks_sentence_0

For the history of the Menshevik movement as an independent political party after 1912, see Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Mensheviks). Mensheviks_sentence_1


FormationMensheviks_header_cell_0_0_0 1903Mensheviks_cell_0_0_1
DissolvedMensheviks_header_cell_0_1_0 1921Mensheviks_cell_0_1_1
ProductsMensheviks_header_cell_0_2_0 Rabochaia gazeta (Workers' gazette)Mensheviks_cell_0_2_1
Key peopleMensheviks_header_cell_0_3_0 Julius Martov

Pavel Axelrod Alexander Martinov (later Bolshevik) Fyodor Dan Irakli Tsereteli Leon Trotsky (later Bolshevik) Noe ZhordaniaMensheviks_cell_0_3_1

Parent organizationMensheviks_header_cell_0_4_0 Russian Social-Democratic Labour PartyMensheviks_cell_0_4_1
Formerly calledMensheviks_header_cell_0_5_0 "softs"Mensheviks_cell_0_5_1

The Mensheviks (Russian: меньшевики́), also known as the Minority were one of the three dominant factions in the Russian socialist movement, the others being the Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. Mensheviks_sentence_2

The factions emerged in 1903 following a dispute within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) between Julius Martov and Vladimir Lenin. Mensheviks_sentence_3

The dispute originated at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, ostensibly over minor issues of party organization. Mensheviks_sentence_4

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 меньшинство ('minority'), while Lenin's adherents were known as Bolsheviks, from большинство ('majority'). Mensheviks_sentence_5

Despite the naming, neither side held a consistent majority over the course of the entire 2nd Congress, and indeed the numerical advantage fluctuated between both sides throughout the rest of the RSDLP's existence until the Russian Revolution. Mensheviks_sentence_6

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 and theoretical issues of class leadership, class alliances and interpretations of historical materialism. Mensheviks_sentence_7

While both factions believed that a proletarian revolution was necessary, the Mensheviks generally tended to be more moderate, and more positive towards the liberal opposition and the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionary Party. Mensheviks_sentence_8

History of the split Mensheviks_section_0

1903–1906 Mensheviks_section_1

At the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in August 1903, Julius Martov and Vladimir Lenin disagreed, firstly, with regard to which persons should be in the editorial committee of Iskra, the Party newspaper; secondly, in regards to the definition of a "party member" in the future Party statute: Mensheviks_sentence_9


  • Lenin's formulation required the party member to be a member of one of the Party's organizationsMensheviks_item_0_0
  • Martov's only stated that he should work under the guidance of a Party organization.Mensheviks_item_0_1

Although the difference in definitions was small, with Lenin's being slightly more exclusive, 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. Mensheviks_sentence_10

Martov's proposal was accepted by the majority of the delegates (28 votes to 23). Mensheviks_sentence_11

However, after seven delegates stormed out of the Congress—five of whom were representatives of the Jewish Bund who left in protest about their own federalist proposal being defeated—Lenin's supporters won a slight majority, which was reflected in the composition of the Central Committee and the other central party organs elected at the Congress. Mensheviks_sentence_12

This was also the reason behind the naming of the factions. Mensheviks_sentence_13

It was later hypothesized that Lenin had purposely offended some of the delegates in order to have them leave the meeting in protest, giving him a majority. Mensheviks_sentence_14

However, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were united in voting against the Bundist proposal, which lost 41 to 5. Mensheviks_sentence_15

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. Mensheviks_sentence_16

1906–1916 Mensheviks_section_2

At the 4th Congress of the RSDLP in 1906, a reunification was formally achieved. Mensheviks_sentence_17

In contrast to the 2nd Congress, the Mensheviks were in the majority from start to finish, yet Martov's definition of a party member, which had prevailed at the 1st Congress, was replaced by Lenin's. Mensheviks_sentence_18

On the other hand, numerous disagreements about alliances and strategy emerged. Mensheviks_sentence_19

The two factions kept their separate structures and continued to operate separately. Mensheviks_sentence_20

As before, both factions believed that Russia was not developed enough to make socialism possible and that therefore the revolution which they planned, aiming to overthrow the Tsarist regime, would be a bourgeois-democratic revolution. Mensheviks_sentence_21

Both believed that the working class had to contribute to this revolution. Mensheviks_sentence_22

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. Mensheviks_sentence_23

In contrast, the Bolsheviks believed that the Constitutional Democrats were not capable of sufficiently radical struggle and tended to advocate alliances with peasant representatives and other radical socialist parties such as the Socialist Revolutionaries. Mensheviks_sentence_24

In the event of a revolution, this was meant to lead to a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which would carry the bourgeois revolution to the end. Mensheviks_sentence_25

The Mensheviks came to argue for predominantly legal methods and trade union work, while the Bolsheviks favoured armed violence. Mensheviks_sentence_26

Some Mensheviks left the party after the defeat of 1905 and joined legal opposition organisations. Mensheviks_sentence_27

After a while, Lenin's patience wore out with their compromising and, in 1908, he called these Mensheviks "liquidationists." Mensheviks_sentence_28

1912–14 Mensheviks_section_3

In 1912, the RSDLP had its final split, with the Bolsheviks constituting the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, and the Mensheviks the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Mensheviks_sentence_29

The Menshevik faction split further in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. Mensheviks_sentence_30

Most Mensheviks opposed the war, but a vocal minority supported it in terms of "national defense." Mensheviks_sentence_31

1917 revolutions Mensheviks_section_4

After the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty by the February Revolution in 1917, the Menshevik leadership led by Irakli Tsereteli demanded that the government pursue a "fair peace without annexations," but in the meantime supported the war effort under the slogan of "defense of the revolution." Mensheviks_sentence_32

Along with the other major Russian socialist party, the Socialist Revolutionaries (also known as эсеры, esery), the Mensheviks led the network of soviets, notably the Petrograd Soviet in the capital, throughout most of 1917. Mensheviks_sentence_33

With the monarchy gone, 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. Mensheviks_sentence_34

When Bolshevik leaders Lev Kamenev, Joseph Stalin, and Matvei Muranov returned to Petrograd from Siberian 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. Mensheviks_sentence_35

However, Lenin and his deputy Grigory Zinoviev returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland on 3 April and re-asserted control of the Bolshevik Party by late April 1917, taking it in a more radical direction. Mensheviks_sentence_36

They called for an immediate revolution and transfer of all power to the soviets, which made any re-unification impossible. Mensheviks_sentence_37

In March–April 1917, the Menshevik leadership conditionally supported the newly formed liberal Russian Provisional Government. Mensheviks_sentence_38

After the collapse of the first Provisional Government on 2 May 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 17 May. Mensheviks_sentence_39

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 9 May, but the right wing prevailed 44–11. Mensheviks_sentence_40

From then on, the Mensheviks had at least one representative in the Provisional Government until it was overthrown by the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. Mensheviks_sentence_41

With Mensheviks and Bolsheviks diverging, Mensheviks and non-factional social democrats returning from exile in Europe and United States in spring-summer of 1917 were forced to take sides. Mensheviks_sentence_42

Some re-joined the Mensheviks. Mensheviks_sentence_43

Others, like Alexandra Kollontai, joined the Bolsheviks. Mensheviks_sentence_44

A significant number, including Leon Trotsky and Adolf Joffe, joined the non-factional Petrograd-based anti-war group called Mezhraiontsy, which merged with the Bolsheviks in August 1917. Mensheviks_sentence_45

A small yet influential group of social democrats associated with Maxim Gorky's newspaper Novaya Zhizn (New Life) refused to join either party. Mensheviks_sentence_46

After the 1917 Revolution Mensheviks_section_5

The 1917 split in the party crippled the Mensheviks' popularity and they received 3.2% of the vote during the Russian Constituent Assembly election in November 1917 compared to the Bolsheviks' 23% and the Socialist Revolutionaries' 37%. Mensheviks_sentence_47

The Mensheviks got just 3.3% of the national vote, but in the Transcaucasus they got 30.2%. Mensheviks_sentence_48

41.7% of their support came from the Transcaucasus and in Georgia, about 75% voted for them. Mensheviks_sentence_49

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. Mensheviks_sentence_50

However, Martov's leftist Menshevik faction refused to break with the right-wing of the party, resulting in their press being sometimes banned and only intermittently available. Mensheviks_sentence_51

The Mensheviks opposed War Communism and in 1919 suggested an alternative programme. Mensheviks_sentence_52

During World War I, some anti-war Mensheviks had formed a group called Menshevik-Internationalists. Mensheviks_sentence_53

They were active around the newspaper Novaya Zhizn and took part in the Mezhraiontsy formation. Mensheviks_sentence_54

After July 1917 events in Russia, they broke with the Menshevik majority that supported continued war with Germany. Mensheviks_sentence_55

The Mensheviks-Internationalists became the hub of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (of Internationalists). Mensheviks_sentence_56

Starting in 1920, right-wing Mensheviks-Internationalists emigrated, some of them pursuing anti-Bolshevik activities. Mensheviks_sentence_57

The Democratic Republic of Georgia was a stronghold of the Mensheviks. Mensheviks_sentence_58

In parliamentary elections held on 14 February 1919, they won 81.5% of the votes and the Menshevik leader Noe Zhordania became Prime Minister. Mensheviks_sentence_59

Prominent members of Georgian Menshevik Party were Noe Ramishvili, Evgeni Gegechkori, Akaki Chkhenkeli, Nikolay Chkheidze and Alexandre Lomtatidze. Mensheviks_sentence_60

After the occupation of Georgia by the Bolsheviks in 1921, many Georgian Mensheviks led by Zhordania fled to Leuville-sur-Orge, France, where they set up the Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in Exile. Mensheviks_sentence_61

In 1930, Ramishvili was assassinated by a Soviet spy in Paris. Mensheviks_sentence_62

Menshevism was finally made illegal after the Kronstadt uprising of 1921. Mensheviks_sentence_63

A number of prominent Mensheviks emigrated thereafter. Mensheviks_sentence_64

Martov went to Germany, where he established the paper Socialist Messenger. Mensheviks_sentence_65

He died in 1923. Mensheviks_sentence_66

In 1931, the Menshevik Trial was conducted by Stalin, an early part of the Great Purge. Mensheviks_sentence_67

The Messenger moved with the Menshevik center from Berlin to Paris in 1933 and then in 1939 to New York City, where it was published until 1965. Mensheviks_sentence_68

See also Mensheviks_section_6


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