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Political Parties in Russia until 1917

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Cho, Namje
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Marxism
II.1 Theory
II.2 Emancipation of Labor Group 1883
II.3 Marxism-Leninism
III. Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party 1898
III.1 Overview
III.2 Second Congress 1903
III.2.a Lenin Bolsheviks) vs. Martov (Mensheviks)
III.3 Jewish Bund 1897
III.3.a Overview
III.3.b in Russia
IV. Socialist Revolutionary Party 1898
V. Russo-Japanse War 1904-1905
V.1 Overview
V.2 Impact on Political Parties
VI. The Year 1905
VI.1 The Russian Revolution of 1905
VI.2 The Constitutional Democratic Party 1905
VI.3 The Octobrists 1905
VI.4 The Trudoviks 1905
VI.5 The Union of the Russian People 1905
VI.6 Political Parties
VII. Aftermath : The Russian Revolution 1917
VI.1 The Unpopular Tsar
VI.2 The Revolutions
VIII. Conclusion : the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1912)
IX. Notes
X. References

I. Introduction :
            Unable to experience the development and progress the rest of Europe was going through, Russia was lagging far behind. Autocracy under the Tsars (1) had caused a reform drought in Russia where the nation did not experience much changes. Although there were some (2) who attempted to implement reform and westernization, the nation seemed to be going nowhere; thus, backwardness (3) is a common term to describe Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth century. A few limited reforms were implemented (4) and Tsarist Russia made some considerable industrial progress; but, these changes did not meet the people's desires and many grew sick and tired of the intolerably poor political and economic state Russia was in, which opened the curtain for the revolutionaries to act.
            This paper will chronologically (referring to establishment dates) discuss the political parties, especially the Social Democratic Labor Party (as Bolshevik faction is the most influential party), that existed before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the revolution where support for the Tsar's regime evaporated and the autocratic monarchy was disintegrated and replaced. It will also show not only how the people's insufferable situation in autocratic Russia influenced creations of different political parties, but also how the political reforms and newly-rising parties shaped and evolved Russian society.

II. Marxism

II.1 Theory
            Marxism, the political theory based on the works of Karl Marx (5) and Friedrich Engels (6), was caught on and put into practice more intensely in Russia than in many other European countries. Marx believed that society goes through metamorphoses of five different economic stages; the metamorphosis in Russia's case would be the evolution from capitalism to socialism (7). Marx said, "Revolutions are the locomotives of history." Marx believed that the evolution into a socialist society can only occur through a revolution. Furthermore, he believed that this revolution should only happen in an industrialized, capitalistic society, and the proletariat (the working class), must overthrow the bourgeoisie (the capitalists). The bourgeoisie class would shrink while the proletariat grows into the majority of the population. Once the revolution takes place and the proletariat would rise to power, communism is the ultimate stage in society's evolution of economic stages.

II.2 Emancipation of Labor Group 1883
            The Emancipation of Labor Group, the first Russian Marxist group, was founded in 1883 in Geneva by a group of leaders that translated many works on Marxism into Russian and distributed them. One of the leaders, George Plekhanov, who is often regarded as the "Father of Russian Marxism," (8) wrote drafts that served as the stepping stone for the creation of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Those who sided with Plekhanov stated that once there is a capitalist class in Russia, the industrial proletariat must remove them from power through a socialist revolution. Vladimir Lenin, a key figure who will be discussed later, wrote, "[the Emancipation of Labor Group] laid the theoretical foundations for the Social Democratic movement and took the first step towards the working-class moment in Russia."

II.3 Marxism-Leninism
            Marxism-Leninism is the term used to describe the version of Marxism that Lenin had developed. It is the ideology that diverges from the classic Marxism on a few theories. Similar to the major aspects of Marxism, Marxism-Leninism states that an overthrow of the bourgeoisie through revolution is necessary, and is followed by the proletariat's dictatorship which brings the nation closer to the communism, the final stage of the metamorphoses. Lenin believed that his party must educate the workers in order for them to gain class consciousness and seize political power. Once the workers have the society evolve and achieve socialism, the party will then dissolve and the proletariat attains absolute power to establish a communist society.
            There are, however, major differences between traditional Marxism and Marxism-Leninism. Although Russia was not yet industrialized, the concept of revolution piqued the interests of people like Lenin, who were boiling with impatience and frustration at Russia's backwardness. In Russian society, state-led industrialization was implemented; therefore, factories were owned by the government or foreigners, and a capitalist class could not be properly developed. Also, there were many serfs in Russia, and although this changed by the end of the nineteenth century, many workers were still illiterate and did not meet Marx's image of what the mature, educated proletariat worker should look like. Russia's condition definitely did not resemble the circumstances that Marx stated was necessary for a revolution, the condition in which revolutions can only occur in highly-industrialized, capitalistic societies. However, Lenin exclaimed that the conditions were so unbearably poor that the country could not wait much longer for the proletariat to rise up and for Russia to meet the Marxist conditions. Thus, he decided to give "history a shove," and start the revolution as soon as possible.
            Marxism-Leninism would soon serve to be the backbone that established the theories and ideologies necessary to found the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, especially making up the philosophies of the Bolshevik faction.

III. Russian Social Democratic Labor Party 1898

III.1 Overview
            As the feelings against the Tsar continued to mount up and the expansion of revolutionaries carried on, a socialist political party in 1898 was illegally formed with the aim of uniting many of the diverse revolutionary groups and organizations into one unified party. This party was named the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party; that same year in Minsk, the party held the first congress consisted of smaller socialist democratic groups. Unfortunately, the Tsarist secret police, known as the Okhrana, arrested and exiled many of the Congress members; the Tsar, in order to maintain his power, made reform impossible by banning revolutionary parties. Despite being disheartened and being unable to function as a cohesive party, the members never lost hope and their efforts are evident in procedures like working under pseudonyms to escape the Okhrana, smuggling the party¡¯s paper, Iskra, to Russia in 1900, and publishing papers; for example, in 1902, Lenin published the political pamphlet, What Is to Be Done ?, where he called for professional, committed revolutionaries to serve as vanguards and form a party to lead and guide the efforts of the proletariat in a revolution. To prevent any infiltration of the party carried out by the secret police, Lenin called for democratic centralism. In this system, the power belongs to a few elites, and debate is allowed; however, once a decision is made, everyone must be committed to that cause. After a few years of constantly being chased around by the Okhrana, the party would try to reunite.

III.2 Second Congress 1903
            The Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labor Party took place in 1903 and marks the major split of the party into two groups: the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Two of the party's main leaders, Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov, disputed over different areas and ended up leading the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions, respectively.

III.2.a Lenin (Bolsheviks) against Martov (Mensheviks)
            Lenin believed in democratic centralism and supported a smaller, underground party of professional revolutionaries with many other non-party supporters. On the other hand, Martov was against Lenin's restriction on party membership and wanted to go mainstream, having a more open party membership with a larger party of revolutionary activists. Furthermore, while Lenin wanted to have an immediate proletariat revolution, Martov's opinion, similar to Marx' belief, was that it was way too early for a revolution as capitalism was still absent in Russia, and that there must be a bourgeois before the proletariat revolts.
            Lenin's faction was called the Bolsheviks, meaning the majority, while Martov led the Menshevik faction, meaning the minority. Although they would be re-unified in 1906, their differences would always collide between the two factions until the Bolsheviks finally became a separate party in 1912.

III.3 Jewish Bund 1897

III.3.a Overview
            The General Jewish Labor Union of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, commonly referred to as the Jewish Bund, or just the Bund, was a Jewish political party that predominantly operated for forty years after its foundation in 1897 (9).

III.3.b In Russia
            At the time, the Russian Empire included states like Lithuania, where many Jewish people lived; the Bund sought to create a united socialist party consisted of all of the Jewish workers in the Russian Empire. Being a part of a secular socialist party, the Bundists desired to support and side with a large-scale social democratic movement to achieve socialism in Russia. Therefore, they were a main part of the First Congress of the Social Democratic Labor party. Unfortunately, the party initially encountered many bumps in the road due to police repressions, and the Bund would officially leave the party in 1903 during the Second Congress, as Lenin dismissed them while the party split into two.

IV. Socialist Revolutionary Party 1898
            The Socialist Revolutionary party was also founded in 1898, and its major goal was to gather and unite the different local socialist revolutionary groups. The party ultimately wanted to unite all of the groups that were against the Tsarist regime. The ideology behind the party differed from Marxist ideas in that rather than the industrial proletariat sparking the revolution, it would be the peasantry. As the party was highly supportive of the rural peasantry, the party equally garnered as much support from the peasantry as well. Also, rather than believing in land nationalization, which the Bolsheviks believed in, the Socialist Revolutionary Party believed in land socialization, which appealed to the peasantry and further gained their support. On a darker, more negative side, the party's strategy for revolution was rather violent. They supported terrorism and party members are responsible for the assassinations of many high officials and political figures.

V. Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905

V.1 Overview
            The Russo-Japanese War was a huge disgrace for Russia. At the time, Russia was a weak state, yet the tsars continued to think that the nation was strong enough. Russia attacked Japan in 1904, assuming that it would be an easy win, but they were routed by Japan, revealing the inefficiency of the Russian government and military.

V.2 Impact on Political Parties
            On top of all the nation's troubles, peasants and workers were displeased and Russia was experiencing social unrest. The defeat in the Russo-Japanese war would cause an exponential increase of discontent; on the verge of collapse came the Revolution of 1905. With this revolution, new groups express new ideas and in addition, many new political parties emerge as it was only illegal to establish political parties under the Tsar¡¯s rule before 1905 (10).

VI. The Year 1905

VI.1 The Russian Revolution of 1905
            After the debacle with the Japanese, a revolution broke out spontaneously. A priest, Father Gapon, led a group of workers to the Tsar's palace and presented him a petition of different demands such as an elected Duma (parliament), freedom of speech, fair trials, and other natural rights. Instead of showing them that he was still the great guardian; the Tsar ordered the guards to fire into the crowd and slaughtered more than a hundred people. This triggered all kinds of reactions. Socialist groups escalated in all parts of the countries, many workers went on strike, and liberals demanded a constituent assembly. In order to somewhat appease these revolts, the Tsar created the first Duma, yet to the peasants and the workers, this meant very little. Strikes continued until the Tsar was finally convinced by his advisors to sign the October Manifesto. This constitution promised freedom of speech, of press, of assembly, of worship, broad and general suffrage, and granting legislative power to an elected Duma. On paper, Russia had become a constitutional monarchy.

VI.2 Constitutional Democratic Party 1905
            The Constitutional Democratic Party was a liberal party founded during the peak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, when Nicholas II was forced to grant basic rights to the people in signing the October Manifesto. The members of the party, commonly known as the Kadets, were mainly supported by professional professors and lawyers, and members of the zemstvo (11). Unlike the opposing parties at the time, the Constitutional Democratic Party, as a left-wing party, wanted universal suffrage and a constituent assembly that would write the constitution, deciding the country's government. In 1906, during the First State Duma elections, the Kadets received 30% of the seats and they allied with the Trudoviks, forming a majority. However, this initial success would go to waste as the government dissolved the Duma, calling it dysfunctional. The Kadets' leaders were soon banned from participation in the Duma due to a manifesto they wrote in response to the government's breaking up of the party. Finally the Kadets, who were not initially committed to the idea of a constitutional monarchy, declared their support for it and abandoned their revolutionary ambitions.

VI.3 The Octobrists 1905
            Similar to the Constitutional Democratic Party to their Left (12), the Octobrist Party was founded during the latter part of October in 1905, when the October Manifesto was being issued. The Octobrist party was a non-revolutionary centrist party, which meant that it was neither left-wing nor right-wing but in the middle. Unlike their opposing left-wing party, the Octobrists firmly believed in a constitutional monarchy since the start, while the Kadets took a while to adjust their view. Although they supported the concept of having a constitutional monarchy, the Octobrists still emphasized the need for a parliament (Duma) and government control over it, and thus they were satisfied with the October Manifesto as Nicholas II offered a broad participation in the Duma.
            In the elections for the First and Second State Dumas, the Octobrist party and other groups associated with it did not do well as the Kadets made up the majority of the parliament. Then, before the Third State Duma, the laws on parliament election changed in favor of the Octobrists, and they eventually made up the largest group of the Duma. However, the party could not seize the opportunity and take advantage of the majority; because they had no say or influence on politics, the Octobrist party split.

VI.4 The Trudoviks 1905
            The Trudoviks, also known as the Labor Group, was a moderate labor party; compared to the large revolutionary groups, the Trudovik party was just a small party consisted of workers. Although this party is only one of hundreds of workers' circles that were created after the Revolution of 1905, it won seats in the First and Second Dumas; therefore, it survived as a small, well-known party that was distinguished from the other circles.

VI.5 The Union of the Russian People 1905
            Of all the parties mentioned, the Union of the Russian People is the only one to support the Tsarist regime. This counter-revolutionary party was founded in St. Petersburg as a part of the Black Hundred movement, the anti-Semitic conservative movement that supported the autocracy and thus went against all revolutionary causes. Due to internal conflicts, this party would break down into a smaller variety of organizations. Eventually, by the Russian Revolution of 1917, all Black Hundredist groups and movements would be banned, and disintegrated.

VI.6 Political Parties
            Excluding the Union of the Russian People, all political parties had one common goal to overthrow the Tsar. However, due to various parties¡¯ differing ideological programs and philosophies yet one common goal, dissensions within each party were difficult to be avoided and caused many splits or oppositions. For example, you have the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, a left and right wing party (although Octobrists were centrist, we can consider them right-wing compared to Kadets), and moderate views versus radical views within the Social Revolutionaries. In a situation where there are many different groups with different views and no dominant party, the masses of the people can not be led and that is why the Revolution of 1905 failed.

VII. Aftermath : The Russian Revolution of 1917

VII.1 The Unpopular Tsar
            Tsar Nicholas II had seemed to have learned nothing from the Revolution of 1905. Russia still maintained an autocracy as the Tsar tried to dissolve the Duma multiple times. World War I proved to be a huge disaster and an embarrassment; the Russian military was revealed to be very flawed, the Russian political situation seemed to be more and more hopeless, and prices skyrocketed as the war generated many scarcities. Overall, by 1917, the hatred for the Tsar exploded and it was time for him to fall.

VII.1 The Revolutions
            The Russian Revolution of 1917 can be categorized into two revolutions. The first revolution, also known as the February Revolution, resulted in the overthrow of the Tsar and the establishment of the Provisional Government, the temporary replacement of the Tsarist regime. This new government was mainly made up of the liberal bourgeoisie. The Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks would soon join the cause around July. This provisional government had goals of achieving democratic republics and secularizing society; however, discontent again rose as the bourgeoisie did not hear the people's cries of weariness and depression nor feel the chronic hunger of the peasants.
            Thus, the masses turned to the Bolsheviks. Their slogans, "Peace, land, and bread" and "All power to the Soviets" were welcomed by the peasants and the workers. Consequentially, the Bolshevik faction greatly increased as the Bolshevik philosophies appealed to the proletariat. Finally, the second revolution led by Lenin and his Bolshevik revolutionaries, referred to as the October Revolution, (13) was successfully carried out by overthrowing the provisional government and was closer to achieving his socialist society, which would be the first communist government in the world.

VIII. Conclusion : The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1912)
            In 1912, the Bolshevik faction officially split from the Social Democratic Labor party and became a party of its own. Led by Lenin, Marxism-Leninism indefinitely served as the official ideology behind the party. The Bolsheviks were the most influential; it successfully led the October Revolution and established a socialist state in Russia. Eventually, the Bolsheviks would take Russian Communist Party of Soviet Union as their party name and rule as a communist party until dissolved in 1991 along with the end of the Soviet Union.
            Dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, Tsarist rule had shut the door on any reform and made it illegal to touch the doorknob; no matter how much each person would try to shove the door open, it would not budge until the mass efforts of the working people were led by the vanguard revolutionaries to break down the door itself, to start over and rebuild the system that would be used for a long time.

IX. Notes

(1)      Tsar, a Slavonic term derived from Caesar, is used to describe the king or monarch in Russia
(2)      Tsars like Peter the Great, Alexander II, and Nicholas were among those who wanted to see Russia reformed.
(3)      Hauss 2006
(4)      Roskin 2004 p. 268 Alexander II freed the serfs from legal bondage, allowed commoners to attend universities, and planned granting universal suffrage to 5% of the males; however, reform efforts increased demands for greater reform
(5)      Karl Marx was a very important German philosopher, political economist, and a socialist revolutionary. His theories were extremely influential to the uprising of the proletariat and victory of the Russian Bolsheviks
(6)      Friedrich Engels, a German political philosopher, was the co-founder of Marxism along with Karl Marx. Engels and Marx are both credited for writing about their version of socialism (communism) and their theoretical studies on capitalism; their most well-known works are The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.
(7)      Hauss 2006 Some major characteristics of socialism are: being against capitalism and private ownership because it leads to inequality; the substantial equality of outcome so that people can be free from hunger, disease, and poverty; and democracy to include control over peoples¡¯ lives (work).
(8)      Article : The Russian Revolution of 1905, from
(9)      Article: General Jewish Labour Union, from Wikipedia The Bund was founded in Wilno (Vilnius), Lithuania. Lithuania, at the time, was a part of the Russian Empire. Wilno is the Polish name for this city.
(10)      Article: The Revolution of 1905, from World History at KMLA
(11)      Zemstvo is a form of a local self-government introduced by Alexander II as one of his reforms. These zemstvos would close down after the October Revolution in 1917
(12)      A party to the Left is a left-wing party. These parties generally have secular and liberal views.
(13)      The revolution did not actually occur in October. Russia used the Julian calendar at the time, and with the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today, the revolution would have really taken place in November.

X. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited in November 2007.
1.      White, James, Lenin, New York et al. : Palgrave, 2001
2.      Ganse, Alexander, KMLA Handbook Modern European History, Sosa-ri : KMLA, 5th Edition 2007
3.      Wade, Rex, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 2000
4.      Read, Christopher, The Making and Breaking of the Soviet System, New York et al. : Palgrave, 2001
5.      Dixon, Simon, The Modernisation of Russia 1676-1825, Cambridge : Cambridge UP, 1999
6.      Raymond, Boris et al., Historical Dictionary of Russia, London et al. : Scarecrow Press, 1998
7.      Wren, Melvin et al., The Course of Russian History, Illinois : Waveland Press, 1994
8.      Roskin, Michael, Countries & Concepts: Politics, Geography, Culture, New Jersey : Prentice Hall, 2004
9.      Hauss, Charles, Comparative Politics: Domestic Response to Global Challenges, California : Thomson Wadsworth, 2006
10.      Article : Russia, from The New Encylopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia Volume 10, 1998
11.      Article : Russian Revolution of 1905, from The New Encylopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia Volume 10, 1998
12.      Article : Russian Revolution of 1917, from The New Encylopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia Volume 10, 1998
13.      Article : Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party, from The New Encylopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia Volume 10, 1998
14.      Article : List of political parties in Russia, from Wikipedia,, last revised 21 October 2007
15.      Article : Russian History, 1892-1917, from Wikipedia,, last revised 26 November 2007
16.      Article : Russian Revolution (1917), from Wikipedia,, last revised 30 November 2007
17.      Article : Russian Revolution (1905), from Wikipedia,, last revised 29 November 2007
18.      Article : Marxism, from Wikipedia,, last revised 2 December 2007
19.      Article: The Revolution of 1905, from World History at KMLA, posted by Alexander Ganse,, last revised 16 March 2007
20.      Article : Russia from 1905 to 1917, from Online Encylop©¡dia Britannica,, last revised 2 December 2007
21.      Article : Russian Revolution 1905, from,, last revised 16 December 2000
22.      Article : The February Revolution in Russia 1917, from,, last revised 16 December 2000
23.      Article : The Russian Revolution of 1905, from,, no revision date
24.      Article : The Great Dress Rehearsal - Russia's 1905 Revolution, from, 08_Russia1905.shtml, last revised 7 January 2005
25.      Article : General Jewish Labor Union, from Wikipedia,

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