1903 - Foundation of the Bolshevik Party

1903-1904: the birth of Bolshevism, Lenin and Luxemburg

In the previous article in this series, we saw how the future Bolshevik, Trotsky, had failed to grasp the significance of the birth of Bolshevism, siding with the Mensheviks against Lenin. In this article, we look at how another great figure of the left wing of social democracy, Rosa Luxemburg – who in 1918 was to declare that “the future everywhere belongs to Bolshevism” – also used her considerable polemical skills to support the Mensheviks against the so-called ‘ultra-centralism’ personified by Lenin.

1903-1904: Trotsky against Lenin

In 1904, the Russian empire was on the verge of revolution. The lumbering Czarist war machine was experiencing a humiliating defeat at the hands of a far more dynamic Japanese imperialism. The military debacle was fuelling the discontent of all strata of the population. In her pamphlet The Mass Strike, The Party and the Trade Unions, Rosa Luxemburg recounts how, already in the summer of 1903, at the very time that the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was holding its s famous Second Congress, southern Russia had been shaken by “a colossal general strike”. The war brought a temporary halt in the class movement, and for a while the liberal bourgeoisie took centre stage with its “protest banquets” against the autocracy; but by the end of the 1904 the Caucasus was again aflame with massive workers’ strikes around the issue of unemployment. Russia was a tinder box, and the spark that set it aflame was soon to be lit: the Bloody Sunday massacre in January 1905, when workers humbly petitioning the Czar to alleviate their appalling conditions were slaughtered in their hundreds by the Little Father’s Cossacks.

1903-4: the birth of Bolshevism

One hundred years ago, in July/August 1903, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party held its Second Congress - not in Russia, since the scale of repression under the Czarist regime would have made this virtually impossible - but in Belgium and in Britain. Even then the need to shift the venue in the middle of the Congress was necessitated by the close surveillance of the "democratic" Belgian police. This congress has gone down in history as the one which saw the party split into its Bolshevik and Menshevik wings.

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