Bolsheviks
   The group of Marxist revolutionaries who carried out the Russian Revolution of October 1917 under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. The group originated in a larger organization of Marxists called the Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party, founded in Minsk in 1898. Lenin began to influence the direction of the movement as he spoke out against what he believed were the liberal tendencies of some Marxists who focused on short-term economic gains for the workers over political aims. Over the next five years, Lenin became well known for his more radical ideas about the possibility of a revolution in Russia, most significantly with the publication of What Is to be Done? in which he argued that an effective organization had to be led by a small group of professional revolutionaries who would help the working class develop a political consciousness. These ideas became central to the power struggle within the Social Democratic Party, splitting the party into two factions in 1903.
   Lenin, on one side, stressed that the revolutionary party should be secret, disciplined, and set up in a strict hierarchical organization; the other major faction in the Social Democrats, led by Julius Martov, favored a broad conception of the party, open to all who accepted Marx’s principles. It was during these disputes that the names emerged: Bolshevik (from the Russian, bol’she, meaning larger) and Menshevik (from men’she, or smaller). Lenin very cleverly seized the opportunity of a momentary voting majority to call his group the Bolsheviks. Although standard Marxism called for a long interval between the first, bourgeois revolution and the second, socialist revolution, Lenin and his supporters - among them Lev Trotsky, Grigorii Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev - argued in favor of pushing rapidly forward with plans for revolution. Consequently, in the fall of 1917, it was the Bolsheviks who took advantage of the instability of the Provisional Government to stage a coup d’état and establish the new communist regime.
   See also <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Figes, Orlando. A Peoples Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. New York: Penguin, 1996;
    Haimson, Leopold. The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955;
    Theen, Rolf. Lenin: Genesis and Development of a Revolutionary. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
   LEE A. FARROW

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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