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International Socialist Review, March-April 1968


Gus Horowitz

Two Books Against Bolshevism


From International Socialist Review, Vol.29 No.2, March-April 1968, pp.60-61.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Russian Revolution of 1905: The Workers’ Movement and the Formation of Bolshevism and Menshevism
by Solomon M. Schwarz
University of Chicago Press. 354pp. $8.95.

The Making of a Workers’ Revolution: Russian Social Democracy, 1891-1903
by Allan K. Wildman
University of Chicago Press. 253pp. $7.95.

In Russia’s 1905 revolution Solomon Schwarz was a bolshevik agitator in St. Petersburg, an active participant in the dramatic events that set the stage for the October Revolution 12 years later. In 1917, as a menshevik, Schwarz was a government official in the Ministry of Labor prior to the revolution. On the night that the bolsheviks seized power and transformed world history, Solomon Schwarz, former revolutionary, recalled that his evening was spent editing “an article on the struggle against tuberculosis. Such is the irony of fate!”

Now, fifty years after the Russian Revolution, Schwarz has written a book about 1905, the second volume in a series on the history of menshevism. Hindsight and objectivity might suggest that a reasonable course of historical analysis would be to search for the connecting links between the prelude that 1905 represented and the decisive events of 1917. Surely, we would suspect, the differences between bolsheviks and mensheviks that appeared in 1905 must have given clues to why the bolsheviks would succeed later in 1917 while the mensheviks would flounder helplessly before the great events. But of this, Schwarz has not a word.

Solomon Schwarz has one purpose only in this “scholarly tract” – to prove conclusively that in 1905 the bolsheviks were virtually incompetent, highly inferior tacticians to the mensheviks, and worse, were inherently incapable of relating to the elemental outbursts of the Russian workers, in fact were hostile to them.

“Fundamentally,” he says, “Bolshevism stressed the initiative of an active minority; Menshevism, the activizauon of the masses ... Bolshevism logically developed dictatorial conceptions and practices; Menshevism remained thoroughly democratic.”

“The Mensheviks were basically concerned with fostering the proletariat’s political independence.”

Of concern to the Bolsheviks “were the ideas of ‘firm’ leadership from above and iron ‘discipline’ on the lower levels.”

Liberally sprinkled with quotations from representatives of all political tendencies at the time, Schwarz’s book has a certain informational value, but only to those willing to make a careful study of other works as well and who, in particular, will not hesitate to dispense with Schwarz’s bias. Schwarz does debunk some of the myths, created later under the tutelage of Stalin, that the bolsheviks were always firm, wise, and successful in their tactics.

Wildman’s book is the first volume of the series on the history of menshevism. The author conceives of his work as a “study on the social and structural foundations” of the Russian social democratic movement, a companion work to Leopold Haimson’s The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism. As such, it contains much useful information on the workers movement in Russia, primarily prior to 1901. Information on the size, scope of activities, degree of influence, and composition of the social democratic movement is treated thoroughly and with reasonable objectivity.

Wildman’s attack on bolshevism is more sophisticated than Schwarz’s, but retains the essential ingredient. Lenin’s ideas, says Wildman, represented “that minority trend in Russian Social Democracy which valued homogeniety of views and centrally directed action over mass participation and democratic initiative.”

“Bolshevism was to carry on with Lenin’s banner of elitism whereas Menshevism, albeit with considerable vacillation and inconsistency, eventually became the champion of ‘worker initiative’ and party democracy.”

Wildman tries to show that the professional revolutionaries and early political leaders of the movement, largely intellectual in origin, continually clashed with the initiative of workers who were drawn into action through strike struggles and general political agitation. This division, which Lenin explained as that between trade union oriented militants and politically oriented revolutionaries, was never as definitive as Wildman claims. Furthermore, it was into the bolshevik movement and not the menshevik that the revolutionary minded workers were drawn and were able to assume leadership, as subsequent history showed.

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