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Communist Party (Bolsheviks)

In its development up to the revolution of 1917, bolshevism followed Leninist theories and endowed the party leaders with dictatorial power. In 1904, long before the revolution, young Leon Trotsky, then a violent opponent of Lenin, had complained in a pamphlet, Our Political Aims, that in Lenin's scheme: ". . . the party organization takes the place of the party, the Central Committee replaces the party organization and finally the "dictator" replaces the Central Committee." After the successful Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the party's Central Committee did indeed become the new government, while Lenin, the supreme leader of the party, took on the stature of a dictator.

The "Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)" is the outgrowth of an extreme radical fraction of the "Russian Social Democrat Workmen's Party" founded in 1897. The split took place in 1903 at a congress held abroad at which the radical delegates were in the majority. For this reason this fraction came to be known as the Bolsheviks, which meant simply those of the majority, that is, the majority at this particular congress. Until the summer of 1917 the official title of this fraction was "Russian Social-Democrat Workmen's Party (Bolsheviks)." At that time the leaders of this group, now organized as a distinct party, were already discussing the formal adoption of the name "Communist" (Lenin, "First Letter on Tactics," May, 1917). They continued, however, to use the name "Bolshevik," by which they had come popularly to be known abroad as well as in Russia.

In official documents and writings the term "Bolshevik" was used as late as July, 1918 (Official Stenographic Report, with tables, of Fifth All-Russian Congress). Since about that date there was a tendency to substitute the word "Communist" in official documents and writings, though the word "Bolshevik" has generally been added in parentheses as indicated above. (See Call to Third or Communist International, "Certain Aspects of the Bolshevist Movement in Russia.") During the revolution of 1905 the Bolsheviks represented the radical minority in the workmen's councils of that period. The Russian word for council is "soviet." They opposed bitterly the more moderate fraction of the Russian Social Democrats, the Mensheviks.

The Social-Democrats as a party boycotted the elections to the first Duma in 1906, but individual Social-Democrats were elected to this first Russian parliament, particularly from the Caucasus. During 1906 the Mensheviks secured the majority in the party councils and Russian Social-Democrats participated more actively in the elections to the second Duma, securing a large number of seats. The explanation given for the dissolution of the second Duma was its refusal to unseat 55 Social Democratic members whom the government charged with revolutionary conspiracy. There was, nevertheless, a small group of Social-Democrats in both the third and fourth Dumas. Among these there were members who, though not specifically elected as such, were generally recognized as adherents of the Bolshevist fraction of the party. It was, for example, these individual Bolshevist members within the Social-Democratic group of the fourth Duma that came out in public condemnation of the war at the special session of the Duma called in August 1914.

In the Petrograd Soviet of Workmen's and Soldiers' Deputies, organized during the first days of the revolution of 1917, party alignment at the beginning was not particularly emphasized. Very shortly, however, particularly after Lenin's arrival, a sharp differentiation took place, and the Bolsheviks, as a separate party, became the most energetic and compact, though minority, group in the Petrograd Soviet. In the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets the Bolsheviks had a minority and therefore a minority on the first AllRussian Central Executive Committee of Soviets elected by that Congress. During the summer of 1917 frequent conflict developed between the Petrograd Soviet and the AllRussian Central Executive Committee, for the former was more radical than the latter, containing a larger percentage of Bolsheviks. By September, 1917, the Bolsheviks had obtained a clear majority in the Petrograd Soviet, Trotsky being elected its president.

Against the wish of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the Petrograd Soviet sent out a call for a Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was announced for November 7. It was on the eve of the opening of this Congress that the Bolsheviks executed their coup d'etat. In this Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the Bolsheviks had a majority. In view of the refusal of the more moderate Socialist parties, particularly the Mensheviks, to accept the Bolshevist coup d'etat, the Central Executive Committee selected by the second Congress was composed largely of Bolsheviks, as was the first Council of People's Commissaries, although a few Left Socialist-Revolutionaries were given places on the Executive Committee and on the Council.

At the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets of July, 1918, the Bolsheviks had a majority, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries having about 30 per cent of the total membership and other parties being represented in very small numbers. It was at this Congress that Socialist-Revolutionaries of the Right and Center, and the Mensheviks-all anti-Bolshevist but Socialist parties - were excluded from the Central Executive Committee and all local Soviets were urged to do the same.

The Sixth All-Russian Congress, held in November, 1918, showed an overwhelming majority for the Bolsheviks; in fact, one can say that they were the only party really represented, having 900 (including 71 sympathizers) out of 914 members (Summary of Stenographic Report). In the Seventh Congress, held more than 13 months later, in December, 1919, the Bolsheviks were equally dominant, having 970 out of 1,002 members.

The Bolsheviks had been less completely in control of local Soviets. However, an analysis made by the Bolsheviks themselves shows the gradual elimination of all other parties, and particularly of so-called non-party members, the explanation being given that the latter were formally joining the Communist Party. There were frequent references to "sympathizers with communists" or "candidates for communists." These official Bolshevist figures also indicate that the percentage of Communists or Bolsheviks increased as one went up the scale of Soviet institutions. There were more Bolshevists in the provincial executive committees and provincial congresses than in the district and cantonal executive committees and congresses. A detailed analysis of the composition of the Petrograd Soviet which was elected in July, 1919, and statistics on the elections of last December also show the elimination of other parties and even of socalled non-party members.

From such accounts as have been found in Bolshevist newspapers it appears that in the first stage the elections are by acclamation, at meetings held in factories, barracks, or executive departments and on party lists presented to the meeting. Delegates to higher units would seem to be elected in proportion to party strength. But even so, the party with a bare majority increased its majority as the elections pass through the various grades. A report on the first sitting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, as published in the official Izvestia, gave a list of the members, all of whom were prominent Communists. In local Soviets, as for example that of Petrograd, on December 31, 1919, similarly, the Communists had complete control.

The Politburo sessions of October 11 and 12, 1938, which were devoted to the publication of the Short Course of the History of the Ail-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), took place at a time when the official end of the Great Terror lay one month ahead. The party had already been purged from top to bottom as a new and younger party leadership replaced the Old Bolsheviks who had perished in the purges. The Short Course was written by and approved by a committee of the Central Committee, but Stalin was its principal author. Between 1938 and 1953, over 42 million copies of the Short Course were issued, in 301 printings and 67 languages.

Stalin only wrote one chapter of Short Course, but he edited the full text five times. The Short Course was regarded throughout the communist world as the most authoritative source on Soviet Marxism until de-Stalinization began in 1956. Stalin's revision of party history after the Great Terror of the 1930s included his reorientation of propaganda towards the Soviet intelligentsia. A new "party history" was born along with a "renewed" party that reemerged after the Great Terror. Stalin used depersonalized history to blot out the memory of other Old Bolsheviks as a convenient foundation for his own "cult of personality."

By discarding the Bolshevik name which occurred in the autumn of 1952 Stalin intended to demonstrate an assertive move away from the symbolism of heroic Leninism.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:24:20 ZULU