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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

The Mensheviks' Critique of Bolshevism and the Bolshevik State
Plekhanov, the senior member of the Iskra board, rebuked Lenin. In
fact, Marx claimed exactly the opposite of what Lenin was claiming:
not only were the masses capable of achieving proletarian
consciousness all by themselves, but they would do so inevitably,
since economic forces are the ultimate determinants of ideas and
actions.14 By November of 1903, Plekhanov turned against Lenin,
and invited Martov, Akselrod, and other Mensheviks back to Iskra's
board. Lenin resigned but was not expelled from the party. Now, under
Plekhanov's leadership, the Mensheviks rejoined the moderate
Bolsheviks to form a single party.15   Analysis of the Debates and
Schism The early debates between the future factions of the Russian
Marxists and their subsequent schism illustrate their similarity nicely.
At no point did any faction openly challenge any of the basic
postulates of Marx. Indeed, they considered Marx to be an
authoritative guide to the truth. Both factions of the party willingly and
freely voted for Plekhanov's statement of the ultimate demands of
Social Democracy cited above. Both factions favored some form of
centralized party: Lenin leaned towards one-man rule, while Martov
felt more comfortable with some kind of collective leadership. Lenin
wanted a carefully regulated party membership, while Martov was
more tolerant, more concerned with admitting enlightened members of
the masses.
There were other differences between the Bolsheviks and the
Mensheviks that surfaced at this time. For example, Getzler states
that Martov "reproved Plekhanov for his cynical rejection of democratic
principles at the party congress and told him that he should at least
have added that 'so tragic a situation was unthinkable as one in which
the proletariat to consolidate its victory would have to violate such
political rights as, e.g., the freedom of the press.'" Also, the
Mensheviks' opposition to Lenin's ultra-centralism reveals some
concern for free voting and pluralism that could obviously not exist in a
Leninist party.
Still, this dispute over the status of civil liberties and free voting could
by no stretch of the imagination be transformed into the heart of the
Menshevik-Bolshevik dispute. There was no important argument over
Plekhanov's statement of principles, which are staggeringly
authoritarian in their implications.  If one studies Plekhanov's
statement (cited above), one can see that it was not a watered-down
body of vague generalizations that anyone could agree with.  Instead,
it stated explicitly that the RSDLP intended to abolish private
ownership of the means of production with "planning of the productive
processes." Such planning necessarily implies the existence of
planners who do the planning; in short, of some kind hegemonic
system that would impose its views upon the entire society. Similarly,
Plekhanov's program stated plainly that a dictatorship of the proletariat
would have to seize control of the state and quell all opposition.  This
was not controversial among the delegates to the congress, who
ratified it quickly and turned to other matters. If the issue of civil
liberties and competetive voting were truly important to the
Mensheviks, why did they fail to demand a prominent and explicit
affirmation of their values in Plekhanov's statement? A reasonable
hypothesis is that Martov and his fellow Mensheviks were not
concerned about civil liberties and democracy in a serious way. While
they thought that civil liberties and democracy were good in theory, did
not want to argue about it. In fact, they were quite willing to cooperate
with other Marxists who openly scorned these values.
Further support for this interpretation comes from the remainder of the
At no point did Martov or any other Menshevik demand that Lenin's
faction guarantee their support for political freedom. The proper
structure of the party was the issue that dominated the debates. The
Mensheviks' conception of the party was more sympathetic to civil
liberties and democracy than Lenin's, but it was hardly the thrust of the
Mensheviks' argument. Instead, they favored their kind of party
because it would advance the cause of Social Democracy, as
enunciated by Plekhanov, more efficiently than Lenin's system (which
would alienate almost everyone). As Martov put it, "the wider the title
of party member is spread, the better. We could but rejoice is every
striker or demonstrator, when called to account for his actions could
declare himself a party member.16 Lenin denounced Menshevik
conceptions of the party as "anarchistic" and "individualistic," but this
was mainly name-calling rather than serious criticism.  Martov and
Akselrod, for example, did not concentrate on the dictatorial character
of Lenin's party. Instead, they made technical philosophical
arguments. They argued that there was a contradiction between the
subjective goal of enlightening the proletariat and the objective means
of ultra-centralization. Plekhanov, likewise, chastised Lenin for
implicitly denying the inevitability of the proletarian revolution. Since
the proletariat, driven by the laws of history, was destined to overthrow
capitalism and establish Marxian socialism, it was incorrect for Lenin
to argue that an elitist revolutionary party was necessary to groom the
proletariat before it could attain this goal.
If the Mensheviks were advocates of civil liberties and democracy,
their behavior up to the schism reveals that they were among the most
anemic and apathetic advocates of political freedom in history. They
belonged to a party of which a major faction had open contempt for
such concerns. While in that party, they did not make a big issue out
of their differences. They cooperated freely with avowed authoritarians
to achieve social change. They were able to endorse Plekhanov's
statement of principles without a large debate. Their most vigorous
argument against Lenin's theory of the party was that it was an
inefficient means for achieving socialism. In sum, while some
Mensheviks voiced minor interest in political freedom, it was near the
bottom of their agenda. We shall see how much that agenda changed
as the Menshevik movement matured.
Bolshevik-Menshevik Conflict to the February Revolution 
Wartime reveals interesting facts about the Mensheviks and the
Bolsheviks.  Under critical and intense circumstances such as those
provided by war, one can observe the similarities and differences of
their respective positions and the reasons behind those positions. As
history would have it, both factions of Russian Marxism were alive and
active during both the Revolution of 1905 and World War I. It is to
these phases of Menshevik-Bolshevik debate that we will now turn.
The Revolution of 1905 was preceded by the outbreak of thee Russo-
Japanese War. Martov was particularly vocal in denouncing this war,
and hoped that it would end with a negotiated peace. He supported
neither government, saying, "We are international socialists, and
therefore any political alliance of the socialists of our country with any
class state whatever, we regard as betrayal of the cause of
revolution." His slogan was "peace at any price." Getzler remarks that,
"there was also an element of humanitarian pacifism in him even if he
would not explicitly admit it."17 Perhaps, but the thrust of Martov's
argument against the war was that it was a conflict between ruling
classes and as such contrary to the interests of the proletariat of both
nations. The position of Lenin and the Bolsheviks was similar.
The Revolution of 1905 followed the Russo-Japanese War. This
revolution was not led by the RSDLP, but both factions were intensely
interested in it. Both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks generally agreed with
Marx's view that in a country such as Russia, still ruled by an absolute
monarch and without a large proletariat, the revolution would not be
socialist in character. Instead, at this stage of historical development,
it was necessary for the bourgeoisie to seize power from the czar and
establish a liberal democratic regime favorable to their own interests.
The proletariat would gain somewhat from this shift, but the main
beneficiaries would be the bourgeoisie itself. Once the bourgeois were
firmly in command, they would clear the road for the impending
transition to socialism.18 There were many variations and differences
within this paradigm. Potresov looked upon a government of, for, and
by the bourgeoisie with satisfaction. He was confident that the
bourgeoisie would allow political freedom and sweep away the
remnants of czarist feudalism. Plekhanov was less enthusiastic. He
agreed that it was historically necessary for the bourgeoisie to hold the
reins of power for a while, but disliked it nevertheless. Still, he
believed that the bourgeoisie would grant everyone political freedom
so long as they were not frightened by radical movements. Martov was
more hostile to the bourgeoisie, arguing that they were timid and
conservative and therefore interested in a compromise with the czar.
All these factions basically agreed that the proletariat could best
advance its interests by throwing its support behind the bourgeoisie
and refraining from any attempt to establish socialism before its time.
Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks were ambivalent. They agreed that the
bourgeoisie was a progressive force in society, then appended that
socialists should only support the bourgeoisie until it developed its
own political program and organizations. Then, the duty of socialists
changed: socialists should advance the more radical program of
socialism rather than the half-hearted program of liberal democracy.19
Most of the Russian Marxists were unwilling to participate in the
democratic government that the revolution temporarily established.
Getzler explains this position succinctly: "To govern in coalition with
liberals and democrats would be to renounce their class opposition to
the existing order, to accept responsibility for bourgeois policies, and
even to find themselves in conflict with the masses of the
proletariat."20 Moreover, both Martov and Lenin believed that the time
was not yet ripe for socialist parties to seize power for themselves.
They must limit themselves to assisting the bourgeoisie against the
autocracy. There was an important exception to this rule. If the
bourgeoisie proved too timid and weak to seize power, then the
socialist parties would have to do so in their place. Given that most
Marxists agreed that the Russian bourgeoisie had a history of timidity
and weakness, this exception is more important than it seems.
Once the 1905 Revolution created parliamentary organizations, the
Mensheviks tended to favor improving the workers' position by
changing the laws democratically; the Bolsheviks were less friendly
towards such means. Some of the demands that the Mensheviks
made in 1906 included the creation of unemployment insurance, the
eight-hour day, and municipalization of land. The Mensheviks were
afraid of the full-fledged nationalization of land; this measure would
surely strengthen state power, and, as Martov put it, "so long as the
capitalist mode of production prevails, state power will always be
bourgeois."21 By opposing the nationalization of land, the 
Mensheviks differed with both the Bolsheviks and non-Marxist
socialists such as the Social Revolutionaries.
Concurrently, inter-party disputes gradually led to an official split
between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. At the fifth congress of
the RSDLP in 1907, the division between the two wings was obvious.
The Mensheviks opposed revolutionary activity because it would
endanger parliamentary institutions under which the proletariat had
won impressive gains. Trade unions were legal, and the new
government respected the freedom of the press and the right of
assembly. Some Mensheviks wished to make Social Democracy an
umbrella party which would include labor unions, socialists, and
cooperatives of all types.
The Bolsheviks took a very different position: Social Democrats
should try to inflame the masses by denouncing the moderation and
weakness of the Duma.22 Between the 1907 conference and the final
schism of 1912, three distinct factions appeared amongst the RSDLP:
the moderate Mensheviks, the revolutionary Mensheviks, and the
Bolsheviks. The moderates devoted themselves to peaceful reforms
and cooperation with the labor movement. They favored the abolition
of the illegal portions of the party apparatus. The revolutionary
Mensheviks included Plekhanov, Martov, Dan, and Trotsky. They liked
the legal gains that socialism had made but also wanted to preserve
the illegal party structure. Lenin and the Bolsheviks denounced the
reformist trend running through Menshevism and repeated their
demands for the centralized and revolutionary party described by
Lenin in his "What is to be Done?" These factions were able
cooperate successfully until 1912, when the party congress invited
some deviationist factions to attend the London conference in order to
unify the party. Lenin was particularly outraged by this compromise. 
Through skillful political maneuvering, Lenin split off his faction from
the rest of the RSDLP, then proclaimed his faction to be the complete
"true" RSDLP.
Trotsky tried to bring Lenin back into the fold and failed. World War I's
sudden beginning overshadowed the drive to reunite Russian
Marxism.23 World War I challenged the world-view of orthodox
Marxists. They were internationalists, who believed that struggle
between nations distracted workers from the real struggle between
classes. Yet most socialists in Europe chose to support their
respective national governments. Naturally, this seemed like a great
betrayal. And, as a corollary, any faction that remained internationalist
demonstrated the genuineness of its orthodoxy and virtue.
Most of the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks remained devotees of
internationalism; as a consequence, they grew together during the
war. Three distinct positions sprang up in their ranks. The first was a
pro-Russia position called "revolutionary defensism." These came
from Plekhanov's section of Menshevik camp. At the other extreme
was Lenin, who advocated "revolutionary defeatism," i.e. the defeat of
"his" native government by the Germans. Martov favored a position
between these extremes: immediate negotiated peace without
annexations or indemnities. Lenin respected Martov's opinion but
denounced the defensists vigorously. Martov, while theoretically
sympathetic to Lenin, distrusted him as a person; at the same time,
Martov refused to condemn pro-war socialists without reservation. He
disagreed with them but forgave them because he thought that they
were mistakenly obeying the will of the masses.24 Let us compare
and contrast the positions of Lenin and Martov. Lenin believed that the
war was an expression of capitalist imperialism. It was a struggle
between ruling classes and therefore opposed to the interests of the
masses.  Lenin hated the czarist government so much that he said
that he would prefer a German victory to a Russian victory. Yet he did
not condemn the war for its massive destruction of innocent life; to his
mind, the true revolutionary was not in any sense a "pacifist" or
"humanitarian." He sought to use the war to destroy capitalism and
improve his faction's position vis-a-vis other socialist organizations.
Lenin explained the pro-war nationalist stance of other socialists as a
deliberate betrayal of the masses. Hence, he refused to deal with
defensists on any terms.
Martov agreed with Lenin that the war was an expression of capitalist
imperialism, a struggle between ruling classes and contrary to the
interests of the masses. Unlike Lenin, Martov believed that since all
nations were partially in the wrong it was incorrect to desire the victory
or defeat of any combatant. He was morally appalled at the horrors of
war. Therefore he favored, "the speediest possible termination of the
war and the most radical steps in the direction of disarmament." Given
this, he obviously did not plan to use the war to advance the cause of
socialism; he wanted to end it at once. Martov believed that pro-war
socialists had been swayed by the patriotic masses, and yearned to
persuade his fellow socialists that they were wrong.25 Martov wanted
socialists to take an active part in the peace negotiations. As he wrote
with Lapinsky, "Only in the event that peace is conquered through the
pressure of the popular masses, and is not the result of a new
conspiracy of predatory diplomacy and reactionary cliques after
universal exhaustion, only then will socialism and democracy be sure
to assert their influence on the peace settlement and the future order
in Europe." He believed that a reunited international socialist
movement, standing up in favor of a negotiated peace, could lead the
post-war struggle of the proletariat for political power. The proletariat's
struggle for power would begin in the most advanced capitalist
countries. Backward areas like his native Russia would still need to
pass through their bourgeois democratic phase before they would be
ready for socialism.26 Analysis of the Conflict to the February
Revolution Since the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks only emerged as
distinct parties after 1903, it might be unreasonable to expect sharp
differences between them before that break. Perhaps only after the
break did they develop their distinctive ideologies and political
programs. In this case, the student of the Mensheviks could chart their
evolution and argue that their initial differences with the Bolsheviks
were the first step on a long road of intellectual growth. The crucial
question then becomes: Did Menshevism develop a distinct identity as
an ideology and a movement after 1903? The correct answer is a
qualified No. Almost all of their post-1903 battles with the Bolsheviks
were either foreshadowed by earlier debates or minor arguments over
tactics. Both factions continued to religiously interpret all events and
strategies through the categories invented by Marx in his philosophical
writings.  Both continued to uphold Marxian socialism as an ideal goal.
For all the emotion of their arguments and frantic inter-party political
maneuvering, their initial differences were minor and did not grow
appreciably over time.

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