Bolsheviks, Mensheviks... class roots

Tom Condit tomcondit at
Mon Jun 5 05:56:20 MDT 1995

Some time ago, someone posted something on this list along the lines
of "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually knew somethign about the class
origins of [left leaders or something like that]."  I think the
specific context was Leninism.

I remember noting at the time that at least some study had been done,
but I couldnt' remember the title.  Thanks to the power of Telnet, I
can now refer whoever it was to:

_The Roots of Russian Communism_, by David Lane (1968).

(This is "David Stuart Lane" if you're searching a catalog.)

Despite its pretentious title, this slim volume is actually an analysis of Tsarist police records of political arrests and
surveillance from 1897 to 1907, the period of differentiation of the
Russian Social Democratic Labour Party into different trends and
eventually into different parties.  Since the Tsarist empire placed
people's class or estate on their passports, Lane is able to show
exactly what kind of people and of what nationality were involved in
at least those left-wing activities which drew the attention of the

As you might expect, given the high level of illiteracy, 12-hour days
in industry, etc., typical of Tsarist Russia, the bulk of visible
leaders in the movement were "intellectuals" of one sort or another.

Lane demonstrates that the demarcation between Bolshevik and
Menshevik intellectuals roughly followed the lines of their class
origins.  The Mensheviks were more likely to be "townsmen", with ties
to bourgeois (I'm using this term in a descriptive sense, not a
pejorative one) liberal circles.  The Bolsheviks were more likely to
be from the "gentry" or civil service "nobility", people who had
severed their ties to the old Tsarist society from which they came
but had none to the emerging capitalist society.

By 1907, this split at the leadership level had also led to a
differentiation at the rank-and-file level.  The Bolsheviks were the
dominant force among Great-Russian workers, in the newly emerging
industrial areas, and in the Baltic region.  The Mensheviks dominated
among sectors of the intelligentsia and in Georgia and Armenia.

If my memory of reading Lane's book is right (it's been some years), he leaves off in 1907
on the eave of the reunification of the two factions, but shows that
the seeds of permanent split were present already in their
differentiated leadership and base.  I don't think this book deals
with the question of the "tertiary" nationalities (to coin a phrase),
but I may be wrong.  In any case, the Bolshevik workers of
Great-Russian origin were the later organizers of, for instance,
Turkish and Iranian immigrant workers in the Baku oil fields who the
Mensheviks couldn't organize because of their links to Armenian
chauvinism. (Cf. the earlier discussion about "identity politics".)

In 1913, Lenin also wrote a very brief piece on the changing composition of
dissent in Russia.  The article is entitled "The Role of Social
Estates and Classes in the Liberation Movement" (V.I. Lenin,
Collected Works, Vol. 19, pp. 328-331.  This is a statistical
analysis of the background of persons charged with "crimes against
the state" from 1827 to 1908, drawing on a law journal article not
cited.  Lenin's primary interest in the growing involvement of the
peasantry in protest movements (and the need to increase it), as well
as the decreasing role of the nobility (a term which in Russia
encompassed a lot more people than we would think of in more Western
context)--from 76% of those arrested in the period 1827-46 to 9.1% of
those arrested in 1905 to 1908.

Similarly with occupatinal statistics (availabel only later).  In
1884-90, three-quarters of those charged with state crimes were drawn
from either the "liberal professions and students" or "no defiin8ite
occupation or no occupation". By 1905-08, that had dropped to 22.9%
for professions and students, 5.5% for declasse elements.

Not sure exactly what value this is to anyone, but it seem to me to
an important part of figuring out what we've done, where we've come
from, where we're going.


Tom Condit
<tomcondit at>
1801-A Cedar Street
Berkeley, California 94703

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list