Bolsheviks vs. Mensheviks
Difference Between Bolsheviks And Mensheviks
The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks emerged as rival factions within the Russian Social Democratic Labor party, a Marxist organization, at its 1903 congress in Brussels and London. The division stemmed from a dispute over party membership qualifications. The party’s left wing, led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, wanted a disciplined, centralized organization consisting only of activists. The moderates, led by L. Martov, favored a more loosely organized mass party. Lenin’s followers, who gained a short-lived ascendancy in 1903, became known as Bolsheviks (“those of the majority”), and Martov’s backers were dubbed Mensheviks (“those of the minority”).
Although the cause of the initial split seemed trivial, it reflected a basic difference of approach that became clearer as spokesmen for the two factions elaborated their views in the following years. The Mensheviks adhered to the belief of veteran revolutionary Georgy Plekhanov that a bourgeois-led, democratic revolution bringing Russia into the capitalist era would have to precede the socialist revolution. Lenin, on the other hand, argued that a revolution of workers and peasants, if properly led, could establish socialism in one stage. The two factions finally split into separate parties in 1912.
Because the Mensheviks believed in standing aside for the bourgeois revolution, they declined to seek power after Emperor Nicholas II was overthrown in March (February, O.S.) 1917, although they did accept cabinet posts in the provisional government. The Bolsheviks, however, gained control of key workers’ soviets (councils) and toppled the provisional government in November (October, O.S.) 1917. Lenin’s regime suppressed the Mensheviks shortly after the beginning of the Civil War in 1918, but they were permitted occasional spurts of political activity until the spring of 1921, when all opposition parties were abolished.