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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

The Mensheviks' Critique of Bolshevism and the Bolshevik State
Most Bolsheviks and Mensheviks shared the same theories about war
and social development. In both the Russo-Japanese War and World
War I, most of them agreed that socialists should not support any
government in international disputes, because wars are conflicts
between ruling classes, all of whose interests are opposed to the
proletariat's. The real "war" was being waged internally in each nation
by the exploiting classes against the exploited classes.  On this issue,
both factions agree with Marx that workingmen have no country.
The main difference between the anti-war Marxists is that Martov and
his followers added a humanitarian pacifist element to the above
Marxist criticism, while Lenin did not. Martov, then, was convinced that
war was bad as such, so he wanted to end it immediately with victory
for none. Lenin believed that war could be a catalyst for revolutionary
change, so he hoped for the defeat of his own government by the
more historically advanced nation of Germany.
Both factions also agreed that all social development must follow the
same route. It was impossible, in their opinion, to leap from czarist
autocracy straight to socialism. Instead, it was absolutely necessary
that Russia pass through an intermediate stage of bourgeois
democracy. Most of them were not enthusiastic about this, but viewed
it as a necessary step forward. The Mensheviks stressed that
bourgeois democracy would bring political liberty. This might be a
good argument that they differed from the Bolsheviks - except that the
Bolsheviks made exactly the same argument! Quoting Lenin, "The
democratic revolution is a bourgeois revolution. But we Marxists must
know that there is not, nor can there be, any other path to real
freedom for the proletariat and the peasantry than the path of
bourgeois freedom and bourgeois progress. We must not forget that
there is not, nor can there be at the present time, any other means of
bringing socialism nearer than by complete political liberty, a
democratic republic, a revolutionary- democratic dictatorship of the
proletariat and the peasantry."27 The fact is that Marxists believed that
socialism could only develop under bourgeois capitalism with the civil
liberties and political freedom that accompanied it. This is not good
evidence for the claim that the Mensheviks or Bolsheviks valued civil
liberties on principle. One could argue, in a similar way, that these
Marxists "really" favored capitalism just because they admitted that the
existence of capitalism was a necessary precondition for the existence
of socialism.
Of course, there were variations upon this world-view. Mensheviks
generally thought that the proletariat should avoid frightening the
bourgeoisie by making radical socialist demands; Lenin took the
opposite view. Mensheviks had more hope for improving workers'
well-being through parliamentary democracy than Bolsheviks did. But
both agreed that a violent revolution would eventually be necessary.
Consider the final break between the two factions in 1912. What
happened here is that the Mensheviks tried to open up the RSDLP by
inviting minor factions to attend the party congress. The Bolsheviks
retaliated by breaking away from the Mensheviks. Lenin then
proclaimed his followers the "real" RSDLP and re-organized the party
on Leninist principles. The Mensheviks tried to heal this split. They
The 1912 schism, in short, resembles the 1903 schism very closely.
The Mensheviks, in both cases, leaned toward a broader membership;
the Bolsheviks did not. The Mensheviks wanted a less centralized
party; the Bolsheviks wanted a Leninist ultra-centralist party. In both
cases the issue was the proper way to organize a party to advance the
cause of Marxian socialism.  They split into rival factions on the basis
of this derivative issue that seems unimportant (or at best a red
herring) to non-Marxists. Ergo, their differences were slight in both
1903 and 1912, and the grounds for both breaks were nearly identical.
Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were alike in most respects whether one
examines them at a particular party congress or over the course of a
Theory Becomes Practice: February Revolution to 1922 Crackdown 
When the February Revolution started, Marxists had to determine how
they would deal with the new government. The Mensheviks voted to
join the provisional government, over the protest of Martov.28 The
majority of Bolsheviks, too, looked at new government with pleasure.
Only after Lenin announced his bitter opposition to the new regime
and struggled to rally his followers behind him did Bolshevik opinion
turn against the provisional authorities.29 During the reign of the
provisional government, defensist Mensheviks backed the
government's plan to prolong the war. Martov took the opposite view -
Russia should give up the war effort and strive for a general peace
settlement. Lenin disagreed with both groups: in his analysis, it was
futile to ask the bourgeois government of Russia to conclude a peace;
instead, Russia should make a separate peace by  overthrowing the
current government.
In the interim between the February and the October Revolutions, the
Mensheviks and Bolsheviks tried to reunite. Martov sent a concilatory
letter to the Bolsheviks when the government cracked down upon
them. Even though Martov criticized the Bolsheviks for their extreme
methods, they accepted his letter with warmth. Martov thought that a
party that included a wide range of social democrats, including
Bolsheviks, would be a good idea. He was, in fact, mainly afraid of a
reactionary coup that would destroy the provisional government. Only
later did he see that the Bolsheviks were dangerous enemies of the
During this time, the Bolsheviks were expanding in numbers, partially
at the expense of the Mensheviks. Martov and other Menshevik
leaders did not give full-fledged support to the new government; they
were also unwilling to oppose it. The reason for this is clear: as
orthodox Marxists, they believed that a period of bourgeois democracy
must precede the socialist revolution, hence their support. But, as
Marxists, they were enemies of bourgeois democracy and identified
that social system as an enemy of the proletariat, hence their
unwillingness to participate in it. The Lenin and his Bolsheviks looked
at the situation otherwise. They went directly to the masses with
solutions to their major problems and asked for the power to carry out
the solutions. The Bolshevik approach proved more persuasive.30 But
persuasion was hardly the essence of the Bolshevik strategy. In
November of 1917, they managed to disband the preparliament and
arrest many of its leaders. Next they began their assualt upon the
remnants of the provisional government. In Petrograd, they built the
nucleus of the new Soviet state.
The Mensheviks were displeased by this - but hardly outraged.
Instead, they thought that their task was to moderate the policies of
the Bolsheviks. Also, they wanted to persuade Lenin to admit other
parties into the new government. Some Mensheviks backed the new
government; others did not. Both groups weighed what were, as they
saw it, the relative benefits and costs of collaboration versus
opposition. If they collaborated, they would be supporting an extremist
faction bent upon thrusting Marxism upon an unprepared nation.
However, they would also be supporting a party intent upon a socialist
transformation of society, which, however poorly timed, seemed
admirable. If they opposed the Bolsheviks, they would lend strength to
reactionaries who surely had plans for a counter-
revolution. Yet if they did not oppose them, democracy might
disappear. Since socialism would inevitably fail unless preceded by an
era of bourgeois democracy, the masses' feelings towards socialism
might permanently sour.31 Most Mensheviks took a middle ground -
they would try to persuade their fellow Marxists to adopt a more sane
course of action.32 Two important factions existed amongst the
Mensheviks. The larger was that of Martov. Here is Brovkin's
summary of his position: "The party's historic role at this stage of the
revolution, as Martov saw it, lay, on the one hand, in opposing
Bolshevik extremist, destructive, anarcho-syndicalist, and dictatorial
policies, and on the other, in preventing the organization by the Right
Socialists of armed struggle against the Bolsheviks." The smaller
faction, a coalition of the supporters of Potresov, Liber, and Dan, was
openly hostile to Bolshevism: "To the Defensists, the Bolsheviks were
a destructive force, an irresponsible, adventuristic, extremist clique of
party activists who had deceived the workers and betrayed Russian
Democracy. The Defensists portrayed the Menshevik party as the
party of the conscious proletariat, opposed to the destruction of the
forces of production. Consequently, the Mensheviks should seek
alliances with other democratic forces and not with the Bolsheviks." 33
The final vote at the Extraordinary Congress where the Mensheviks
debated was (out of 120): Martov, 50; Dan, 26; Liber, 13; and
Potresov, 10. Brovkin notes that even if all of the opponents of
Martov's position had united, they would still have been defeated.
Lenin's early policy was to "Seize the bourgeoisie by the throat!" as
the Bolshevik slogan went.  He did not like the results, so he changed
his program.
Now he favored what he called "state capitalism." This was never
rigorously defined, but it seemed to mean that private enterprise would
be permitted but heavily regulated by the state. Mensheviks of all
persuasions looked upon this favorably. Potresov attacked it as
insufficiently capitalist; Martov and Dan were pleased by Lenin's
change of mind, and rejected Potresov's more laissez-faire view. Of
course, as Marxists, their opinions were explicitly based upon their
theory of historical development which precluded a jump from their
present state to socialism. Lenin's "Socialism now" policy was naive in
its disregard of historical law.34 Once Lenin revealed the concrete
meaning of "state capitalism," the Mensheviks were critical. Lenin
advocated full government control of the economy; Mensheviks
wanted a partnership between government, organized labor, and
industrialists. Lenin wanted trade unions that would serve the
government, whereas Mensheviks wanted independent trade unions.
Both groups favored state regulation of industry, but the Mensheviks
opposed the Bolsheviks' extreme centralization of this regulation. The
Mensheviks favored partial denationalization of the banks and wanted
the fixed food prices raised to encourage more food production; the
Bolsheviks rejected these revisions.35 Let us turn to the Mensheviks'
position on civil liberties. They certainly criticized the Bolsheviks
persecution of people on account of their opinions, whether written or
spoken. In fact, the Mensheviks were often on the receiving end of this
repression. However, it appears that they mainly criticized the
Bolsheviks for their attacks upon the non-Bolshevik socialist press.
The Mensheviks did not favor silencing the bourgeoisie and czarists.
Neither did they condemn the Bolsheviks on principle for punishing
people for their opinions. This would be the acid test of their
commitment to civil liberties. As in the 1903 debates, the Mensheviks
gave only tertiary attention to this issue.36 By July 1919, in their "What
is to be Done?", most of the Mensheviks had switched to what
amounts, more or less, to a sanction of repression: they favored civil
liberties for all parties of the "toiling masses" and asked only that such
repression as did exist be carried out by a judiciary rather than the
Cheka.37 As the Bolsheviks became more violent and dictatorial in
mid-1918, the two distinct factions in Menshevism polarized and finally
split. The larger section, guided by Martov, decided to accept the
October Revolution as "historically necessary" and support the Reds
in the civil war against the Whites. They criticized uninhibited
dictatorship by Lenin because of its psychological effects upon the
masses: while proletarians needed to develop political consciousness
to prepare for socialism, the dictatorship bred the opposite. This
faction decided that, for all its faults, Bolshevism was superior to a
White victory, and therefore condemned the other faction of
Menshevism.38 These people, the Right Mensheviks, favored a
complete boycott of Bolshevik institutions. Mensheviks should not
legitimize the Bolsheviks by becoming their junior partners. The Rights
argued for parliamentary democracy, not a "soviet democracy," as a
final goal. Interestingly, the latter plank, asserted by Liber, was
apparently the position of all Mensheviks just a year earlier.39 Getzler
indicates that the Menshevik majority's compromise was in part
motivated by the defection of many Mensheviks to the Bolsheviks.40
As the civil war intensified the Bolsheviks became progressively more
brutal and totalitarian. This change was not mere pragmatism in the
face of war; instead, Bolshevik theoreticians defended their behavior
righteously. Trotsky did so publicly with writings such as "The Defense
of Terrorism." In My Life Trotsky justified his liberal use of the death
penalty upon uncooperative conscripts with these words: "An army
cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to
death unless the army command has the death penalty in its arsenal. 
So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their
technical achievements - the animals that we call men - will build
armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place
the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the probable
one in the rear."41 There is no small irony in the writings of Trotsky
during and about the civil war. In tone, they resemble a debate over
the fine points of Marxist dogma; in content they concern life and
death for millions of human beings.
It is in this cultural context that Martov, in 1919 and 1920, advanced a
new position towards Bolshevism that he termed "semi-loyal, semi-
irreconcilable." He admitted to his fellow Mensheviks that the
dictatorship had allowed a "thick layer of careerists, speculators, new
bureaucrats, and plain scoundrels" to grow. The Bolshevik state had
"ceased" to be a state of peasants and workers, but it was still
possible (though unlikely) for the Bolshevik state to regenerate
because of the idealists present among those in power. In the final
analysis, the Bolsheviks were bad but a successful counter-revolution
was worse. The militant enemies of Bolshevism among the
Mensheviks denounced Martov's position; indeed, even moderates
found parts of it hard to swallow. Martov's reply was simple and clear:
"We reject the Bolshevik way of posing the question - victory first,
reforms after - because the absence of reforms makes for defeat and
not for victory. But we also reject your way of putting it - reforms first
and a revolutionary assualt on counter-revolution after - because it
may happen that nothing survives to be 'refomed" if counter-revolution
gains a decisive victory."42 Since mid-1918, radicals amongst the
Bolsheviks had frankly advocated killing off the Mensheviks along with
other socialist opposition - whether Martov's "semi-loyal" brand or the
more vociferous sort of Potresov. In July of 1918, the Bolshevik
Lashevich stated this explicitly: "The Right SRs and Mensheviks are
more dangerous enemies of soviet power than the bourgeoisie. Yet
these enemies still have not been shot and are enjoying freedom. The
proletariat must finally get down to business. The Mensheviks and the
SRs must be finished off once and for all!"43 This began as a minority
position and spread as the Bolsheviks entrenched themselves. The
efforts of Mensheviks like Martov to become a legal opposition party
crumbled. The Bolshevik leaders intensified their attacks upon
dissenters gradually but consistently. The truces made during the civil
war were pure pragmatism; they were broken when the Bolsheviks felt
secure. By 1922 legal opposition all but disappeared. Mild dissent was
still officially legal, but the Cheka arrested anyone who tried to
exercise his rights.
There was no place for Menshevism in this kind of a society: the
Mensheviks either fled abroad, were arrested or shot, or joined the
Bolsheviks. Their history as an active movement had come to an

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