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Bolshevism (from Bolshevik) is a revolutionary Marxist current of political thought and political regime associated with the formation of a rigidly centralized, cohesive and disciplined party of social revolution, focused on overthrowing the existing capitalist state system, seizing power and establishing the "dictatorship of the proletariat".
It originated at the beginning of the 20th century in Russia and was associated with the activities of the Bolshevik faction within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party – and first of all, the founder of the faction, Vladimir Lenin. Remaining on the soil of Marxism, Bolshevism at the same time absorbed elements of the ideology and practice of the revolutionaries of the second half of the 19th century (Sergey Nechaev, Pyotr Tkachev, Nikolay Chernyshevsky) and had many points of contact with such domestic left–wing radical movements as populism. The main theorist of Bolshevism was Lenin; besides him, the theoreticians of Bolshevism include Joseph Stalin, Nikolai Bukharin, Yevgeny Preobrazhensky and Leon Trotsky.
Some researchers attribute to Bolshevik theory the program of Joseph Stalin, who headed the All–Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and at the same time possessed full state power in the Soviet Union. However, others (both Stalin's contemporaries and later) do not confuse "Bolshevism" and "Stalinism" proper, considering them to be multidirectional (revolutionary and thermidorian) phenomena.
The expression "Bolshevism", as well as "communism" later, has become established in Western historiography in the sense of a certain set of features of Soviet power in a certain political period. At present, the very name "Bolsheviks" is actively used by various groups of Marxist–Leninists and Trotskyists.
Bolshevism has existed as a current of political thought and as a political party since 1903.
The concept of Bolshevism arose at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (1903) as a result of the split of the party into two factions: supporters of Lenin and the rest.[K 1] One of the main reasons for the split was the question of a party of a new type. In the course of work on the Charter of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, Vladimir Lenin and Yuliy Martov proposed two different wordings of the clause on party membership. Lenin – a party member is a citizen who recognizes the program and charter, pays membership fees and works in one of the party organizations. Martov suggested limiting the charter to the first two requirements. During the elections to the central organs of the party, the majority was won by supporters of the Leninist formulation, after which Lenin began to call his faction "Bolsheviks", while Martov called his supporters "Mensheviks". Although in the subsequent history of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, Lenin's supporters often found themselves in the minority, they were assigned the politically advantageous name "Bolsheviks".[K 2]
As Lenin's biographer Robert Service points out, the division of the newly created party into two factions "plunged Russian Marxists into a state of shock". All but the extreme left Petersburg Marxists disagreed with Lenin's party policy.
At the Fourth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1906, the organizational unity of the party was temporarily restored. At the Fifth Congress, the Central Committee was elected, which, due to disagreements between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, turned out to be unworkable, and the Bolshevik Center, headed by Vladimir Lenin, which was created during the Congress by Bolshevik delegates at one of its factional meetings, arbitrarily took over the leadership of the Bolshevik organizations of the party.
At the Sixth (Prague) Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, held on January 18–30, 1912, which constituted itself as the all–party conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and the supreme organ of the party, almost exclusively Lenin's supporters were represented. By this time, the central committee of the party had virtually ceased to exist (its last plenum was held in January 1910), and the party found itself without an official leading center. In this regard, a Bolshevik Central Committee was elected at the Prague Conference.
In 1916, Lenin wrote his work Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which was a major contribution to the development of classical Marxism in the new conditions. In this work the thesis about the unevenness of economic and political development of capitalism in the epoch of imperialism was expressed and theoretically grounded, which leads to the conclusion about the possibility of the victory of socialism initially in a few or in one single country, which is not yet economically developed enough – such as Russia – provided that the head of the revolutionary movement will be a disciplined avant–garde, ready to go all the way to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Immediately after the outbreak of the World War, Lenin and his supporters advanced the slogan of the defeat of tsarism in the war and the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war. It was with this that Lenin's criticism of the so–called "social–chauvinists", who supported their governments in the world war, was connected. Lenin viewed the civil war as "an inevitable continuation, development and intensification of the class struggle".
By the beginning of the February Revolution, the leading figures of the Bolshevik faction were mainly in exile or in emigration, and therefore the Bolsheviks did not take an organized part in it. The Bolshevik leaders who returned from exile, who, along with the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, became members of the Petrograd Soviet, at first tended to cooperate with the Provisional Government. From the very beginning, while still abroad, Lenin insisted on the immediate break of the Petrograd Soviet with the Provisional Government in order to actively prepare for the transition from the bourgeois–democratic to the next, "proletarian" stage of the revolution, the seizure of power and the end of the war. Returning to Russia, he came up with a new program of action for the Bolshevik party – the April Theses – in which he put on the agenda the demand for the transfer of all power to the Soviets in the interests of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry. Faced with resistance even among the representatives of "theoretical", "scientific" Bolshevism, Lenin managed to overcome it, relying on the support of the lower classes – local party organizations, adherents of immediate practical action. In the course of the unfolding controversy about the possibility of socialism in Russia, Lenin rejected all the critical arguments of the Mensheviks, socialist revolutionaries and other political opponents about the country's unpreparedness for a socialist revolution due to its economic backwardness, weakness, lack of culture and organization of the working masses, including the proletariat, about the danger the split of the revolutionary democratic forces and the inevitability of a civil war.
In April 1917, the split of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was finalized. During a heated discussion at the 7th All–Russian (April) Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks) ( April 24–29), the April Theses received the support of the majority of delegates from the localities and formed the basis of the policy of the entire party. The Bolshevik faction became known as the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks).
The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was renamed the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks) at the 7th (April) Conference in 1917. In March 1918, the party adopted the name of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks),[K 3] and in December 1925, the All–Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). At the 19th Congress in October 1952, the All–Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) was renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
In 1990, at the last, 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, during the legalization of political platforms within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Bolshevik Platform was formed, giving rise to several modern political parties and social movements.
Bolshevism and private property
Realizing the Leninist slogan "plunder the loot", the Bolsheviks en masse carried out a complete confiscation (expropriation) from the owners of private property, which they considered acquired through the exploitation of the working people, that is, the robbery of the workers. At the same time, the Bolsheviks never found out whether private property was obtained through their own labor, or through the exploitation of other people, whether the owners adequately paid for hired labor, what part of the confiscated private property the owner created with his own labor.
Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution
There is an opinion that the Bolsheviks strove for revolution, regardless of the political situation and historical realities. This is how the famous Social Democrat Alexander Parvus wrote in 1918:
The essence of Bolshevism is simple – to ignite the revolution everywhere, not choosing the time, regardless of the political situation and other historical realities. Whoever is against is the enemy, and the conversation with the enemies is short – they are subject to urgent and unconditional destruction.
Support for the Bolsheviks by the people
According to the British historian Orlando Figes, the opinion that the Bolsheviks were raised to the top of power by massive popular support for their party is not true and is a delusion. According to Figes, the October Uprising in Petrograd was a coup d'état supported by only a small part of the population. Figes explains the success of the Bolsheviks by the fact that the latter were the only political party that uncompromisingly advocated the slogan "all power to the Soviets", which gained great popularity in 1917 after the unsuccessful Revolt of General Kornilov. As Figes points out, in the fall of 1917, there was a stream of resolutions from factories, from villages, from army units, calling for the formation of a Soviet government. At the same time, the authors of the resolutions understood "the power of the Soviets" as the All–Russian Council with the participation of all socialist parties.
Meanwhile, the commitment of the Bolsheviks to the principle of Soviet power was not at all so unconditional. In July 1917, when the Bolshevik Party was unable to obtain a majority in the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, it "temporarily removed" the slogan "All Power to the Soviets!". After the October coup, during the so–called "triumphal march of Soviet power" in those cases when individual councils did not agree to become the organs of the dictatorship of the Russian Social–Democratic Workers' Party (Bolsheviks), the Bolsheviks did not hesitate to disperse them and replace them by emergency bodies – revolutionary committees, military revolutionary committees, etc.
Alexander Parvus wrote in 1918:
The present Soviets terrorize not only the reactionaries and capitalists, but also the democratically inclined bourgeoisie and even all socialist workers' organizations that disagree with their opinion. They dispersed the Constituent Assembly and are holding on, having lost their moral authority in the eyes of the masses, exclusively with bayonets.
Supporters and opponents
At the same time, this political trend rejected the centrist social democrats, for example, Karl Kautsky and the extreme left supporters of "workers' council communism", for example, Otto Rühle and Antonie Pannekoek. The answer to the extreme leftist criticism was given by Lenin in the brochure "Childhood Illness of "Leftism" in Communism", in turn Antonie Pannekoek answered to Vladimir Lenin in the work "World Revolution and Communist Tactics".
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Left Opposition to Stalin adopted the self–designation "Bolshevik–Leninists", thereby emphasizing its continuity with the revolutionary tradition as opposed to Thermidorian Stalinism. After the political trials of the 1930s, most of the "Leninist Guards" were repressed. Proceeding from this, there is an opinion that Bolshevism as a phenomenon has left the historical scene:
...[Stalin] managed to destroy almost all of Lenin's comrades–in–arms in Russia, becoming by 1928–1939 "the Russian Bonaparte–Robespierre" in the country, "especially double types of cultures of the pre–bourgeois order, that is, the cultures of the bureaucratic, serfdom" (and terrorist – we add), which Lenin feared so much, grew up in the country.
But on the other hand, a number of scientists are of the opinion that Bolshevism has undergone changes over time, and as a phenomenon, it ended only in the early 1990s.
Some modern scholars agree that Bolshevism...
...was a desperate attempt to escape from the world of the bourgeois and philistine. (This, incidentally, refutes the assertion that Bolshevism is equated with fascism. Fascism, unlike Bolshevism, was based on philistinism – its flesh and spirit).
According to sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, one of the central contradictions of the post–revolutionary policy of the Bolsheviks is defined as a consequence of the historically developed socio–political situation in Russia:
But events did not develop at the will of one person or even one party. Both Lenin himself and his comrades were already hostages of the revolutionary process, which was moving forward according to its own logic. To win in the struggle that had begun, they had to do what they themselves did not expect of themselves, to build a state that only partially met their ideas about what to strive for, but which allowed the revolution to survive and win.
In journalism, some authors also understand it as a synonym for extreme extremism, ideological fanaticism, intolerance, and a propensity for violence.
Social democratic views
If Marxism is a reflection of the social history of Western Europe, refracted through the prism of German philosophy, then Bolshevism is Marxism, emasculated by amateurs and refracted through the prism of Russian ignorance.
Criticism and historical estimates
- According to the philosopher and linguist Nikolay Trubetskoy:
The positive significance of Bolshevism may be that having removed the mask and showed everyone Satan in his undisguised form, he led many through confidence in the reality of Satan to faith in God.— "We and Others", Eurasian Times, Berlin, 1925
From the moment of its organizational formation in 1903, this party differed from all other currents of both Russian and world social democracy primarily by its voluntarist strategy of overthrowing the existing order and its concept of party organization – a rigidly structured, disciplined one, consisting of selected professional revolutionaries, parties are the antipode of vague mass parties, widely open to sympathizers, to the struggle of opinions and discussions, that is, the way the Russian Mensheviks and almost all European Social Democrats were.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin, answering questions in the Federation Council on June 27, 2012, accused the Bolshevik leadership of betraying national interests – "the Bolsheviks committed an act of national betrayal..." as a result of which Russia lost the First World War – "...the result of the betrayal of the then government".
- Despite the ordinal number adopted in Soviet historiography, the London Congress was actually a constituent one, since the Minsk Congress had no practical significance
- There is an opinion that the adoption of such an unprofitable name of the faction was a major blunder for Martov and, on the contrary: the consolidation of the momentary electoral success in the name of the faction was a strong political move of Lenin
- The famous theorist of Marxism Karl Kautsky explained the change in the name of Lenin's party as follows:
[The Bolsheviks] destroyed the democracy that the people had conquered in the March revolution. Accordingly, the Bolsheviks ceased to call themselves social democrats, and adopted the name of communists.
True, they do not want to completely abandon democracy. Lenin, in his speech on April 28, calls the Soviet organization "the highest type of democracy", "a complete break with its bourgeois caricature". For the proletarian and the poor peasant, complete freedom has now been restored.
But democracy is still understood as the equality of political rights for all citizens. The privileged layers have always enjoyed freedom. But this is not called democracy.
- Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1912. Documents and Materials – Moscow: Russian Political Encyclopedia, 2008 – 1120 Pages – (Series "Political Parties of Russia. Late 19th – First Third of the 20th Century. Documentary Heritage") – ISBN 5-8243-0390-8, ISBN 978-5-8243-0954-6
- Alexander Tarasov. The Sacred Function of the Revolutionary Subject
- Osipov 2004–2017.
- Zevelev, Sviridenko & Shelokhaev 2000.
- Vladik Nersesyants. History of Political and Legal Doctrines
- See various works by Trotsky, Martemyan Ryutin (Stalin and the Crisis of the Proletarian Dictatorship), Fyodor Raskolnikov (An Open Letter to Stalin), Boris Kagarlitsky, Alexander Tarasov
- Vladimir Lenin. "Childhood Disease of "Leftism" in Communism" (Full Composition of Writings). 41 (Vladimir Lenin ed.): 6. Cite journal requires
- Service 2002, p. 179.
- Service 2002, p. 187.
- Vladimir Lenin. Full Composition of Writings – 5th Edition – Moscow: Publishing House of Political Literature, 1967. Volume 26. "On the Defeat of Your Government in the Imperialist War. 1915". Pages 286–291
- Vladimir Lenin. Full Composition of Writings – 5th Edition – Moscow: Publishing House of Political Literature, 1967. Volume 26. "Socialism and War (Attitude of the Russian Social–Democratic Labor Party to War). 1915". Pages 307–350
- Vladimir Lenin. Full Composition of Writings – 5th Edition – Moscow: Publishing House of Political Literature, 1967. Volume 30. "The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution". September 1916. Pages 133
- Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean–Louis Pannet, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartoszek, Jean–Louis Margolen, With the Participation of Remy Coffer, Pierre Rigulo, Pascal Fontaine, Yves Santamaria, Sylvain Buluc, "The Black Book of Communism: Crime, Terror, Repression", Three Centuries of History, Moscow, 1999, Translated Under the Direction of Evgeny Khramov. Part 1. "The State Against Its People". Chapter 1. Paradoxes of October
- Vladimir Lenin. Full Composition of Writings. Volume 36. Vladimir Lenin, Meeting of the All–Russian Central Executive Committee On April 29, 1918. Page 269
- Encyclopedic Dictionary of Winged Words and Expressions. Rob the Loot
- "Confiscation of the Means of Production From the Capitalists in the First Months of the Socialist Revolution (November 1917 – June 1918)". Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
- Yuri Felshtinsky, Georgy Chernyavsky. Leon Trotsky. Book Two. Bolshevik. 1917–1923. Chapter 6. Bolshevik Dictator. 8. Confiscation of Church Property
- "Theses of the Law on Confiscation of Homes with Rented Apartments. Vladimir Lenin. Full Composition of Writings. Volume 35. Page 108".
- Decree on the Audit of Steel Boxes in Banks
- Igor Bunich. Party Gold
- "Note to Felix Dzerzhinsky with the Draft Decree on the Fight Against Counter–Revolutionaries and Saboteurs. Vladimir Lenin. Complete Works, Volume 35, Page 156".
- Parvus 2017, p. 108.
- Brenton 2017, p. 160, Orlando Figes. Lenin And the Revolution.
- Pavel Kostogryzov. Bolsheviks and Soviets: Dynamics of Relations During the Period of "Triumphal Procession" and "Strengthening of Soviet Power" (On the Materials of the Urals) // Problems of the History of Society, State and Law. Digest of Articles. 1st Edition. Yekaterinburg: Ural State Law Academy, 2013 – Pages 289–309
- Parvus 2017, p. 107.
- Plimak 2004, p. 189–198.
- Some of the mistakes of this criticism were examined by Georg Lukács in his work «Critical Notes on the Brochure of Rosa Luxemburg "Russian Revolution"» // Georg Lukacs. History and Class Consciousness. Moscow: Logos–Altera, 2003. Pages 346–365
- Karl Kautsky. From Democracy to State Slavery
- Otto Rühle. The Fight Against Fascism Begins With the Fight Against Bolshevism
- Otto Rühle. The Main Questions of the Organization
- Antonie Pannekoek. "Party and Class"
- Vladimir Lenin. Full Composition of Writings. Volume 45. Pages 389
- Plimak 2004, p. 289.
- Heinrich Ioffe. The Rise and Fall of Bolshevism
- Zwei Gesichter des Totalitarismus: Bolschewismus und Nationalsozialismus im Vergleich; 16 Skizzen / Leonid Luks. — Köln [u.a.]: Böhlau, 2007. — 306 S.; 23 cm. — ISBN 978-3-412-20007-7
- "Archived copy (I)". Archived from the original on June 5, 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2020. "Archived Copy (II)". Archived from the original on June 5, 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2020. Leonid Lux. Communist Theorists About Fascism: Insights And Miscalculations
- Boris Kagarlitsky. Marxism: Not Recommended for Teaching. Moscow: Algorithm, Eksmo, 2005. Page 55
- The Latest Philosophical Dictionary / Compiled by Alexander Gritsanov – Minsk: V. M. Skakun Publishing House, 1999 – 896 Pages
- Parvus 2017, p. 109.
- "Putin Accused the Bolsheviks of National Treason". News. June 27, 2012.
- Boris Mezhuev (June 28, 2012). "Honor the Losers". News.
- Nikolay Berdyaev. The Origins and Meaning of Russian Communism. Moscow, 1990
- Osipov, Yury (2004–2017). Bolsheviks. Great Russian Encyclopedia: In 35 Volumes. Moscow: Great Russian Encyclopedia.
- Zevelev, Alexander; Sviridenko, Yuri; Shelokhaev, Valentin (2000). "Chapter 12. Bolsheviks". Political Parties of Russia: History and Modernity. Moscow: Russian Political Encyclopedia. ISBN 5-8243-0068-2.
- Ludwig von Mises. Socialism. Economic And Sociological Analysis – Moscow: "Catallaxy", 1994 – Page 416 – ISBN 5-86366-022-8
- Boris Nikolaevsky (1995). Secret Pages of History. Humanitarian Literature Publishing House. ISBN 5-87121-007-4.
- Bertrand Russell. The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism / [Author's Epilogue by V. S. Markov; Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, Scientific Council "History of Revolutions and Social Movements"] – Moscow: Science, 1991
- Service, Robert (2002). Lenin. Biography. Moscow: Potpourri. Translated From English by G. I. Levitan. ISBN 985-438-591-4.
- Plimak, Evgeny (2004). Transitional Politics. Lenin's Experience. Moscow: The Whole World. ISBN 5-7777-0298-8.
- Yuri Felshtinsky (2008). Leaders In the Law. Moscow: Terra. ISBN 978-5-275-01878-3.
- Parvus, Alexander (2017). In the Fight For the Truth. Moscow: Alpina Publisher. ISBN 978-5-9614-6465-8.
- Brenton, Anthony (2017). Historical Inevitability? Key Events of the Russian Revolution (Collection of Articles). Moscow: Alpina Non–Fiction. ISBN 978-5-91671-757-0.