What differences caused the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to split into factions?

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Enquiry Question: What differences caused the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to split into factions?


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Direct Quotes by Vladmir Lenin and Julius Martov, August 10th, 1903, London.

Brovkin, Vladir. 'Dear Comrades: Menshevik Reports on the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War'‏, pg 2.

  • Disputes between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks lies in attitudes rather than principles, they both share the same devotion to Orthodox Marxism, however Lenin decided that slight amendments could be made in order to create a communist state more efficiently

  • Lenin and Martov disagreed on the wording of the first party rule defining membership.

  • Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party supporters, whereas Martov wanted a more broad-based party that would include both full-time revolutionaries and less active supporters.

  • Many of the greatest differences did not arise until after the Congress in 1903. The debates turned into arguments which later on set foundations for the beliefs held by opposing parties

  • Mensheviks didn’t believe that Russia was developed enough to sustain a revolution. In order to be ready to begin a revolution Marx said that the state had to be sufficiently developed, it had to be a capitalist state and industrialised, whereas at this time Russia was still very much a country of agriculture. Lenin believed that Russia was sufficiently developed.

"Who recognizes the party's program and supports it by material means and by personal participation in one of the party organisations.” -Lenin
“Regular personal association under the direction of one of the party organisations.” -Martov

“The Bolsheviks' goal was to destroy capitalism and bourgeois parliamentary order and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat (in practice a dictatorship of the Bolshevik party). The Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries' (the Socialist opposition) goal was to defend parliamentary institutions and oppose Bolshevik dictatorship because they believed that progress toward the distant goal of socialism could only take place in a democracy”.

These direct quotes from both the figureheads of the Bolshevik (Lenin) and Menshevik (Martov) factions from the disagreement that took place at the second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party regarding what classifies one as a member, making these quotes Primary sources.
This is a primary source, it is a compilation of Menshevik documents.

Enquiry Question: What events took place at the 2nd Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party for the following split to have occurred?


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Trotsky, L, 1930, ‘My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography’, The Party Conflict and Split, pg 161

Shub, D, 1950, ‘Lenin, A Biography’, quote taken from

Russia, Political Groups, Mensheviks, webpage, viewed 9th of June, 2015.


  • The split came unexpectedly from what seemed to have started as a small disagreement

  • Congress voted 28-23 in Martov's favour but his support included 7 Bundists (supporters of the secular Jewish socialist movement) and Economists who later walked out. This left Lenin's faction in the majority so Lenin called his faction Bolshevik or majoritarian (meaning majority). Martov called his faction Menshevik or minoritarian (meaning minority). They called it the majority or minority due to Lenin’s win in a debate regarding the Iskra editorial board (Social Democratic newspaper).

“The split came unexpectedly for all the members of the congress. Lenin, the most active figure in the struggle, did not foresee it, nor had he ever desired it. Both sides were greatly upset by the course of events. After the Congress Lenin was sick for several weeks with a nervous illness.”

“Lenin understood quite clearly that the success of his blueprint for tight party organization depended on the degree of discipline he could enforce from the start…He won on this motion, despite the protests of Martov that the procedure was undemocratic. This was the opening skirmish in the Lenin-Martov battle which was soon to have far more serious repercussions…Lenin lost to Martov, however, by a vote of twenty-three to twenty-eight on the wording of the rules defining Party membership. Lenin wanted to limit membership to those who not only subscribed to the party programme but participated actively in one of its organizations. Martov, on the other hand, was willing to admit all who accepted the programme and gave the Party 'regular personal cooperation under the guidance of one of its organizations'…To many delegates this difference seemed merely verbal. Actually the minor variation in language contained the fissionable element that was to smash the Social Democratic Party into its ultimately irreconcilable Bolshevik and Menshevik factions.”

Although this was written after the event of the 2nd congress (making it a secondary source), this is a reliable source as it is written by Trotsky, a man whom was present at this event.

David Shub, although was written after the events (making this a secondary source), still is reliable as he was living during these events, although was not present, he is a renowned academic making this reliable information.

Enquiry Question: What key influences did each of these parties have on Russian politics?


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Service, R, 2007,’Comrades!: A History of World Communism’.

  • Following the abdication of the Tsar and the events of the 1917 February revolution with the development of the Provisional government

  • The Mensheviks tried to organise an opposition party, but they lost their foothold in the political realm in the early 1920s.

The Bolsheviks with a clear leader in Lenin, found themselves growing in popularity assisted by Lenin’s position on bread, peace and land.

They also gained supporters because they remained radical, anti-war and separate from the ruling coalition which was seen to fail. Beginning as a party of tens of thousands, drastically increased to a party with a mass amount of supporters at over a quarter of a million supporters. These Bolsheviks would soon form the new Russian government and transform into the party which ruled until the end of the Cold War.

This is a secondary source, it is reliable as the author is a Professor of Russian History at Oxford University meaning that he would have extensively studied this subject area.


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