Marxist Ideology

Marxism came to Nicholas II's Russian Empire in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and its accompanying economic and social dislocations. In a state which, on the eve of the 20th century, lacked a constitution, representative assembly, and any traditional-institutional-constitutional checks on tsarist autocracy, reformers operated in a clandestine underground and/or in prison or exile. The various dissident groups moved increasingly towards revolutionary violence as the tsarist secret police, the dread Okhrana, hounded them at every turn. The Russian Social Democrat (SDs,) the first Marxist party, determined to overthrow then entire apparatus of tsarist autocracy and placed a death sentence on the imperial family.

Revolutionary Marxism consisted of a few basic tenets (which I think you learned in I&S):
Economic Determinism
Dialectical Determinism
Class Struggle
Dictatorship of the Proletariat
Classless utopia

German historian, philosopher, economist Karl Marx--influenced by the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and German Romanticism--believed in economic determinism and the inevitability of a proletarian revolution that would overthrow and utterly destroy bourgeois elites in a ruthless bloodbath. His apocryphal view derived from his theories on dialectical materialism and class struggle. He also postulated that the Revolution, when it came, would originate in Germany or Britain--Europe's most industrialized nations--rather than in an essentially agrarian, feudal economy and society as existed in Tsarist Russia.

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Plekhanov (pictured right) along with Vera Zasulich and Pavel Akselrod, founded the Russian Marxist movement from Swiss exile. They were attracted to the orderliness of Marx's ideas and to his message of the historical inevitability of revolution. They, however, "Russified" doctrinaire Marxism to account for Russia's relatively small proletariat, "cutting edge" revolutionary intelligentsia, primitive rural socialism, and what Plekhanov referred to as "the providential nature of Russian backwardness." They (with Lenin) founded the journal, Iskra (Spark,) in 1900 as the SD mouthpiece. They hoped both to ignite the Revolution and to spread their views in the exile community. Lenin and Martov were on its editorial board in 1900.

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Vladivir Ilyich Ulyanov, under the revolutionary pseudonym of Lenin, called upon the Party to "train people who will dedicate to the revolution not a free evening but the whole of their lives." Building upon the traditons of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, such as the 19th century writers Chernyshevsky, Nechaev, and Tkachev, Lenin saw the need for a highly organized, tightly knit, conspiratorial party to lead, guide, direct the proletarian revolution.

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When the Party split in 1903 at its second congress, Lenin broke with his old friend Julius Martov who headed the Menshevik (minority) wing opposing Lenin's Bolshevik (majority) wing. The gifted orator and brilliant theoretician, Lev Davidovich Bronstein--better known by his revolutionary pseudonymTrotsky--tried to heal the schism and reunite both the Party and the revolutionary movement. Unsuccessful, he would later be punished for his disloyalty to Lenin in these early days of Bolshevism. Some referred to him, pejoratively, as a "lone wolf."

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Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili--"Koba"/Stalin--seized Lenin's mantle of leadership--ousted then had Trotsky murdered. He developed his own variation on the theme of Marxism-Leninism: Stalinism. Strengthening the so-called Dictatorship of the Proletariat and using his power and authority in ways reminiscent of Ivan IV's Oprichnina (or Hitler's Nazi Germany) Stalin worked to build "Socialism in One Country" while his USSR awaited the world-wide proletarian revolution.


In the early revolutionary days, Stalin lacked the nerve (and support within the Bolshevik movement) to confront or contradict Trotsky. Despite Trotsky's actions in 1903 (refusal to ally with Lenin) and 1905 (efforts to make the 1905 Revolution "his,") Lenin continued to rely on him. Stalin stuck to the two of them and hitched his wagon to their rising star in the days preceding 1917. Hence (right) the "three who made a revolution."Hmmm, that's actually not Trotsky on the far right; it's Kalinin.

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