Julius Martov

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Yuliy Osipovich Martov MartovW.jpg
Born (1873-11-24)24 November 1873
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Died 4 April 1923(1923-04-04) (aged 49)
Schömberg, Germany

Julius Martov or L. Martov (Ма́ртов; real name Yuliy Osipovich Tsederbaum (Russian: Ю́лий О́сипович Цедерба́ум; IPA: [ˈjʉlʲɪj ˈosʲɪpəvʲɪtɕ tsɨdʲɪrˈbaʊm, ˈmartəf]) (24 November 1873 – 4 April 1923) was a Russian politician who became the leader of the Mensheviks in early twentieth century Russia. He was the founder and editor of Russia's first Jewish journals and newspapers in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian; the Hamelits (the Mediator), the Kol Mevasser (the Harbinger), the Yidisher Folksblat (the Jewish People's Journal), and Vestnik russkikh evreev (the Russian-Jewish Courier).[1]


Martov was born to a Jewish middle-class family in Constantinople, Turkey (modern day Istanbul). His sister was fellow Menshevik leader Lydia Dan.

In Russia, Martov was originally a close colleague of Vladimir Lenin and with him founded the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in 1895.[2] Both were exiled to Siberia for this: Martov was sent to Turukhansk in the Arctic, while Lenin was sent to Shushenskoye in the comparatively warm 'Siberian Italy'.[3] Forced to leave Russia and with other radical political figures living in exile, Martov joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) and, in 1900, was one of the founding members, with Lenin, of the party journal Iskra.[4] Initially, with Lenin, on good terms with the Jewish Bund, eventually Martov would have a critical parallel role with Lenin in the opposition to the Bund from the positions of the RSDLP.[5] At the Second Congress of the RSDLP in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Martov and Lenin over who was to be considered a member of the RSDLP. Lenin had published his ideas for moving the party forward in his pamphlet What Is to Be Done?, which was considered to be a document putting forward the views of the entire Iskra group led by Lenin and Martov. However, in the London Congress of the party, differing definitions of party membership were put forward by the two men, with Lenin arguing for a restricted membership of fully committed cadre while Martov argued for a looser interpretation of membership.


Both Martov and Lenin based their ideas for party organization on those prevailing in the European social democratic parties, in particular that of Germany. When the vote was taken on the disputed question, the group led by Lenin lost and split. However, they were referred to as Bolsheviks throughout the Congress and subsequently as they had won a vote to determine the composition of the Iskra editorial board, hence their adoption of the name Bolshevik which literally means 'person of the majority'. The minority or Menshevik faction adopted that title. Ironically, the vote on the editorial board was not seen as important by any of the disputants at the time, and in fact the Bolsheviks were generally in a minority but some delegates had not been present for the crucial vote who would otherwise have voted for the Mensheviks.


Leaders of the Menshevik Party at Norra Bantorget in Stockholm, Sweden, May 1917. Pavel Axelrod, Julius Martov and Alexander Martinov

Martov became one of the outstanding Menshevik leaders along with George Plekhanov, Fedor Dan and Irakli Tsereteli. Leon Trotsky too was a member of the Menshevik faction for a brief period but soon broke with them.

After the reforms brought about by the 1905 Revolution, Martov argued that it was the role of revolutionaries to provide a militant opposition to the new bourgeois government. He advocated the joining together of a network of organisations, trade unions, cooperatives, village councils and soviets, to harass the bourgeois government until the economic and social conditions made it possible for a socialist revolution to take place.

Martov was always to be found on the left wing of the Menshevik faction and supported the reunification with the Bolsheviks in 1905. That fragile unity was short lived, however, and by 1907 the two factions had again split in two. In 1911 Martov notably wrote the pamphlet "Spasiteli ili uprazdniteli? Kto i kak razrushal R.S.-D.R.P.," "Saviours or destroyers? Who destroyed the RSDLP and how", which denounced the Bolsheviks for among other things, raising money by "expropriations," that is, robbing banks.[6] This pamphlet was denounced by both Kautsky and Lenin.

In 1914, Martov opposed the First World War, which he viewed as an imperialist war in terms very similar to those of Lenin and Trotsky. He therefore became the central leader of the Menshevik Internationalist faction which organized in opposition to the Menshevik Party leadership. In 1915, he sided with Lenin at an international conference in Switzerland, but later repudiated the Bolsheviks.[7]

The February Revolution[edit]

After the February Revolution in 1917, Martov returned to Russia but was too late to stop some Mensheviks joining the Provisional Government. He strongly criticized those Mensheviks such as Irakli Tsereteli and Fedor Dan who, now part of Russia's government, supported the war effort. However, at a conference held on 18 June 1917, he failed to gain the support of the delegates for a policy of immediate peace negotiations with the Central Powers.

The October Revolution[edit]

When the Bolsheviks came to power as a result of the October Revolution in 1917, Martov became politically marginalised. This is best exemplified by Trotsky's comment to him and other party members as they left the first meeting of the council of Soviets after 25 October 1917 in disgust at the way in which the Bolsheviks had seized political power: "You are pitiful isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on — into the dustbin of history!". To this Martov replied in a moment of rage, "Then we'll leave!", and then walked in silence away without looking back. He paused at the exit, seeing a young Bolshevik worker wearing a black shirt with a broad leather belt, standing in the shadow of the portico. The young man turned on Martov with unconcealed bitterness: 'And we amongst ourselves had thought, Martov would at least remain with us.' Martov stopped, and with a characteristic movement, tossed up his head to emphasize his reply: 'One day you will understand the crime in which you are taking part.' Waving his hand wearily, he left the hall.[8]

For a while Martov led the Menshevik opposition group in the Constituent Assembly until the Bolsheviks abolished it. Later, when a factory section chose Martov as their delegate ahead of Lenin in a Soviet election, it found its supplies reduced soon afterwards.[9]

Civil war[edit]

During the Russian Civil War, Martov supported the Red Army against the White Army; however, he continued to denounce the persecution of non-violent political opponents of the Bolsheviks, whether Social Democrats, trades unionists, anarchists, or newspapers.

Speaking of the Red Terror, Martov said: "The beast has licked hot human blood. The man-killing machine is brought into motion... But blood breeds blood... We witness the growth of the bitterness of the civil war, the growing bestiality of men engaged in it."[10]

In October 1920, Martov was given permission to legally leave Russia and go to Germany. Martov spoke at the Halle Congress of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany later that month. Martov had not intended to stay in Germany indefinitely, and only did so after the Mensheviks were illegalised in March 1921, following the Tenth Congress of the ruling Communist Party. Martov died in Schömberg, Germany, in April 1923. Before his fatal illness, he launched the newspaper Socialist Messenger, which remained the publication of the Mensheviks in exile in Berlin, Paris and eventually New York until the last of them had died. It has been rumoured that Lenin, who was increasingly ill at this time and worried about the rising Stalin, may have provided funds for this last venture of Martov.[11]


  • Julius Martov, "The Lesson of the Events in Russia", Le Socialisme, 29 December 1907;
  • The State and the Socialist Revolution (1938, New York) (1977, London), Trans. Herman Jerson
  • Yuliy Osipovich Martov, "Down with the Death Penalty!", June/July 1918;
  • What is to be done? (July 1919, Mensheviks);
  • Julius Martov, "The Ideology of <<Sovietism>>", First published in Mysl, Kharkov 1919;
  • Julius Martov, "Decomposition or Conquest of the State", Introductory section published in Sozialisticheski Vestnik (Berlin) 8 July & 1 September 1921; the whole article appeared for the first time in Mirovoi Bolshevism, Berlin 1923;
  • Martov and Zinoviev: Head to head in Halle (2011, London) November Publications


  1. ^ Israel Getzler, Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (2003).
  2. ^ Tony Cliff (1986) Lenin: Building the Party 1893–1914. London, Bookmarks: 52–59
  3. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin, page 96
  4. ^ Tony Cliff (1986) Lenin: Building the Party 1893–1914. London, Bookmarks: 100
  5. ^ Shukman, Harold (1961). The Relations Between the Jewish Bund and the RSDRP, 1897-1903. p. 277. (Shukman in fact states:) While Martov's contribution to the campaign against the Bund before Congress was publicly smaller than Lenin's, in that it consisted of only one article, yet in private and at the Congress he may in the long run have been the dominant figure. 
  6. ^ Martov : a political biography of a Russian social democrat by Israel Getzler. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1967. ISBN 0-521-52602-7 pp117,128
  7. ^ "Julius Martow is Dead: Russian Socialist, Enemy of Lenin, Was an Exile In Germany", The New York Times. 6 April 1923. Page 17. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  8. ^ I henhold til Boris Ivanovich Nicolaevsky erindringer "Pages from the Past"
  9. ^ Martov : a political biography of a Russian social democrat by Israel Getzler. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1967. ISBN 0-521-52602-7
  10. ^ The Black book of Communism, p. 736.
  11. ^ See, for example, Roy Bainton. A Brief History of 1917: Russia's Year of Revolution, New York, Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0-7867-1493-X p.271.

Further reading[edit]

  • Getzler, Israel. Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (2003).

External links[edit]