V. I.   Lenin

On Bolshevism[3]

Written: Written in the first halt of January 1913
Published: First published in 1913, in the book: N. A. Rubakin, Among Books, Vol. II, Second Ed., Moscow. Published according to the text in the book.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 485-486.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The origin of Bolshevism is inseparably linked with the struggle of what is known as Economism (opportunism which rejected the political struggle of the working class and denied the latter’s leading role) against revolutionary Social-Democracy in 1897–1902. Economism, supported by the Bund, was defeated and eliminated by the well-known campaign of the old Iskra[4] (Munich, London and Geneva, 1900–03), which restored the Social-Democratic Party (founded in 1898 but later destroyed by arrests) on the basis of Marxism and revolutionary Social-Democratic principles. At the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (August 1903), the Iskrists split: the majority stood for the principles and tactics of the old Iskra, while the minority turned to opportunism, and was backed by the one-time enemies of Iskra, the Economists and the Bundists. Hence the terms Bolshevism* and Menshevism[1] (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks). In 1903–04 the struggle was mainly over the Mensheviks’ opportunism in questions of organisation. From the end of 1904 on, tactical differences became the most important. The “plan for the Zemstvo campaign”[5] put forward (autumn 1904) by the new Iskra, which had deserted to the Mensheviks, took up the defence of the tactics of “not intimidating the liberals”. The year 1905 saw the tactical differences take final shape (the Bolshevik Congress, Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in London, May 1905, and the Menshevik “conference” held in Geneva at the same time). The Mensheviks strove to adapt working-class tactics to liberalism. The Bolsheviks, however, put forward as the aim of the working class in the bourgeois-democratic revolution: to carry it through to the end and   to lead the democratic peasantry despite the treachery of the liberals. The main practical divergencies between the two trends in the autumn of 1905 were over the fact that the Bolsheviks stood for boycotting the Bulygin Duma while the Mensheviks favoured participation. In the spring of 1906, the same thing happened with regard to the Witte Duma. First Duma: the Mensheviks stood for the slogan of a Duma (Cadet) Ministry; the Bolsheviks, for the slogan of a Left (Social-Democratic and Trudovik) Executive Committee that would organise the actual struggle of the masses, etc. This could be set forth in greater detail only in the press abroad. At the Stockholm Congress (1906) the Mensheviks won the upper hand, and at the London Congress (1907), the Bolsheviks. In 1908–09 the Vperyod group (Machism[6] in philosophy and otzovism, or boycotting the Third Duma, in politics—Bogdanov, Alexinsky, Lunacharsky and others) broke away from the Bolsheviks. In 1909-11, in fighting against them (cf. V. Ilyin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Moscow, 1909[2] ), as well as against the liquidators (Mensheviks who denied the need for an illegal Party), Bolshevism came close to the pro-Party Mensheviks (Plekhanov and others), who had declared a resolute war on liquidationism. The Bolshevik organs were: Vperyod and Proletary (Geneva, 1905), Novaya Zhizn (St. Petersburg, 1905), Volna, Ekho, etc. (St. Petersburg, 1906), Proletary in Finland (1906–07), Geneva (1908) and Paris (1909), Sotsial-Demokrat in Paris (1909–12). Some of the principal writings of Bolshevism are collected in V. Ilyin’s’[7] Twelve Years, St. Petersburg, 1908, which also gives a more detailed bibliography. The main Bolshevik writers: G. Zinoviev, V. Ilyin, Y. Kamenev, P. Orlovsky and others. In recent years Bolsheviks have been the main contributors to the newspapers Zvezda (1910–12), Pravda (1912), St. Petersburg, and to the periodicals Mysl (1910), Moscow, and Prosveshcheniye (1911–13), St. Petersburg.


[1] From the Russian words for majority and minority.—Tr.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 14.—Ed.

[3] The article “On Bolshevism” was written by Lenin for the second volume of N. A. Rubakin’s book Among Books. On January 12   (25), 1913, Lenin sent the article to Rubakin in Clarens, Switzerland, with a letter stipulating that the article “should not be altered in any way” (see present edition, Vol. 35, Russian ed., p. 45). The article was published in full.

[4] Iskra (The Spark)—the first all-Russia illegal Marxist newspaper. It was founded by Lenin in December 1900 abroad, from where it was secretly sent to Russia. It played a tremendous part in uniting the Russian Social-Democrats ideologically and paving the way for the unification of scattered local organisations in a revolutionary Marxist party. After the split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks that took place at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in 1903, Iskra passed into the hands of the Mensheviks (beginning with No. 52) and came to be called the “new” Iskra as distinct from the “old” Iskra, edited by Lenin.

[5] The Zemstvo campaign was conducted by bourgeois liberals between the autumn of 1904 and January 1905. It consisted of a series of congresses, public meetings and banquets at which speeches were made and resolutions passe din support of moderate constitutional demands. Lenin sharply criticised the Menshevik attitude of sup port for the campaign in his article “The Zemstvo Campaign and Iskra’s Plan”

[6] Machism—a reactionary, subjectivist-idealist philosophical trend which became widespread in Western Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was founded by Ernst Mach, an Austrian physicist and philosopher, and Richard Avenarius, a German philosopher.

Machism was particularly dangerous to the working class as a trend of bourgeois idealist philosophy, for while professing to be opposed to idealism it referred to contemporary natural science, a circumstance which gave it a “scientific” semblance. In Russia, Machist influence was strong among a section of the Social-Democratic intelligentsia. It was particularly widespread among the Menshevik intellectuals, such as N. Valentinov and P. S. Yushkevich. Some Bolshevik writers, too, including V. Bazarov, A. Bogdanov and A. V. Lunacharsky, adopted the standpoint of Machism. Under the pretence of developing Marxism, the Russian Machists tried to revise the fundamental tenets of Marxist philosophy. Lenin in his book Materialism and Empirio-criticism exposed the reactionary nature of Machism. He upheld Marxist philosophy against revisionist attacks and elaborated dialectical and historical materialism in the new historical conditions.

The defeat of Machism struck a powerful blow at the ideological positions of the Mensheviks, otzovists and god-builders.

[7] V. Ilyin—one of Lenin’s pseudonyms.

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