What’s Bolshevism?

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Bolshevism was a political movement in early 20th century Russia led by Vladimir Lenin, which seized power in the Russian Revolution. The term originally referred to a faction of the Socialist Democratic Labor Party, which favored a hard line. Both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks shared Marxism, but operated independently. The Bolsheviks eventually gained control by appealing to the peasantry. Bolshevism evolved into a one-party dictatorship, engaging in radical and often violent activities, making it an object of resentment and mistrust.

Bolshevism is the term used to describe the beliefs and practices of the Bolsheviks, the members of a political movement in Russia in the early 20th century. This movement, founded by Vladimir Lenin, led the Bolsheviks to seize power on October 20 as part of the Russian Revolution. That event was the culmination of a strategy that had been developing since 1917. Originally, the terms “Bolshevism” and “Bolshevik” were used to refer to a faction of the Socialist Democratic Labor Party, which favored a hard line and the acceptance of only full-fledged revolutionaries in the party. Bolshevism has since become synonymous with Soviet-style communism.

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks

The term “Bolshevism” comes from the Russian word bolshe, meaning “greater” or “more.” In reality, the Bolsheviks did not form a clear majority over their opposition, the Mensheviks, but they narrowly defeated the Mensheviks in deciding the issue that had divided them, which concerned party membership. Both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks shared a general political philosophy, but tended to operate more or less independently of each other.


The philosophy they shared was Marxism, more generally known as communism. He favored a revolution in which the working class would rise up and overthrow the capitalist class. The result of such an overthrow would be broad popular control of the factors of production, rather than letting them remain in the hands of the capitalists. The workers, however, would lead government and industry in what is called the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Dichotomy within Bolshevism
Although the party to which the Bolsheviks belonged focused on the Russian working class in its efforts, Lenin and the Bolsheviks eventually gained control because they recognized the political value of appealing to the peasantry as well. Most Bolsheviks were either highly educated intellectuals or factory workers. This dichotomy would later lead to considerable division.

Bolshevism in practice
For most of their history before 1917, the Bolsheviks failed to command broad public support. This was partly because they had their own internal divisions to deal with, even after a formal separation from the Mensheviks. For example, factory workers understandably favored aspects of Bolshevism that would help their families, but not those that would bring intellectuals to power. Furthermore, although Lenin believed in strict adherence to the principles of Marxism, there were other party intellectuals who viewed Marxism not so much as a set of truths but as a collection of falsehoods or myths which were still useful if the workers believed in them.

The Bolshevik movement eventually evolved into a one-party dictatorship. To obtain its means, the government engaged in radical and often violent activities, such as the collectivization of agriculture and the purge of perceived enemies. Many of its practices made it at least as much an object of resentment and mistrust as the ruthless imperialist system that preceded Bolshevism.

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