In 1883 there were many socialist groups in Russia. From revolutionary Marxists, to socialist nationalists and supporters of a agrarian socialist revolution. The RSDWP was the result of unity among many groups and the first workers party in Russia. However the Russian Empire was a absolute monarchy and Czar Alexander Romanov ruled with iron fist. The RSDWP was illegal and could not operate free until 1917. All nine founders of the party ended up getting arrested by the czarist secret police!
Vladimir Lenin joined the party at age 32. Impressed by his work he was allowed to join the party and soon became a senior member. Just before the Second Congress of the RSDWP he wrote ''What to be Done'' in which he argued for a vanguard party to led the working class. Not all members of the party accepted this. The party debated over this and split between three factions. Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov stood against each other in many debates. A third fraction was led by Leon Trotsky, who disagreed with Lenin at first and believed that workers do not need a vanguard party or an alliance with the poor peasantry!
During the third congress in 1906, the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party was reunited. The supporters of Lenin were called the majority or Bolsheviks, while the supporters of Martov were called the minority or Mensheviks. During the second congress, the supporters of Lenin and Martov caused the split, which divided the party for four years. The third congress reunited the party and gave the Mensheviks a majority of supporters, but only for a short time!
The fourth congress of the RSDWP was held in London. Because it was almost impossible to operate in Imperial Russia. Lenin's supporters were able to dominate the congress and got the majority of votes. The debates were focused around the need for a socialist revolution. Lenin supported a revolutionary uprising against the czar and the use of violence. Martov opposed violence against the czarist regime and wanted a pacifist revolution. But since most members of the party knew the hardness of the czarist state, they supported Lenin on the revolution debate. But Martov was able to win a debate over the use of bank robberies and attacks on police stations. The party voted to end these attacks, even while Lenin wanted to continue them!
Still the ideological differences could not keep party unity. The Bolsheviks wanted a socialist revolution and the establishment of a workers state. While the Mensheviks opposed this and favoured a evolutionary road to socialism. They also wanted a capitalist democracy first and believed that socialism was not possible in Russia. From a pure Marxist point of view, Martov was right. Russia was not ready for a socialist revolution. The workers were a minority and made up only 20% of the Russian work force in 1912. Most Russians were peasants and the bourgeoisie was still very weak compared to Great Britain and Germany!
The RSDWP finally split in 1912 in two parties. One reformist socialist RSDWP and one revolutionary socialist RSDWP. Lenin's party and Martov's party both kept the name Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. Trotsky's fraction did not joined either Martov's party or Lenin's party. It would not be until 1917 that Trotsky made the choice to support Lenin.
Although the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks were the parties of the working class, their popularity with the peasants was not that high. Many peasants supported the Socialist Revolutionary Party. This party was founded in 1902 and supported a agrarian socialist society. Unlike the RSDWP the SRP believed that the peasants should led the revolution. Also the socialist revolutionaries believed in individual terrorism against the czarist state. The Bolsheviks opposed this individual terrorism as it did not aid the socialist revolution. It only made the czarist state more brutal in hunting down opponents!
In February 1917 the Russian Empire was dissolved. A bourgeois Provisional Government made up of socialist revolutionaries, constitutional democrats and moderates was set up. The left-wing of the SRP opposed the Provisional Government and like the Bolsheviks they supported the soviets ( workers councils ). After many debates the Socialist Revolutionary Party split into a pro-bourgeois wing and a pro-soviet wing. The SRP supporters of the Provisional Government were led by Alexander Kerensky, prime minister of the Russian Republic since July 1917!
Martov's Russian Social Democratic Workers Party was divided about the Provisional Government. Three Mensjeviks became ministers in the cabinet of Alexander Kerensky and this made Martov's party part of the capitalist government. Lenin's party faced the same debate. Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoview supported the Provisional Government. They were powerful members of the party and Lenin had to debate them almost every time. Finally he was able to win the Central Committee over. The RSDWP ( Bolsheviks ) now called for the rule of soviets and opposed the Provisional Government!
The Provisional Government promised the western capitalist nations to keep on fighting in the first world war. But many Russian had enough of this war and by November 1917, the soviets were dominated by the Bolsheviks who won the majority of votes. The capital of Russia at that time was not Moscow, but Petrograd ( Saint Petersburg ). It was here that the local soviet called for the removal of the Provisional Government. Red Guards assaulted the Winter Palace and arrested the ministers. Julius Martov was very opposed to this and he left the Soviet of Petrograd with his supporters. With the arrest of the capitalist ministers the Provisional Government was gone. It was replaced by the Congress of Soviets who elected Lenin as chairman and Leon Trotsky as people's commissar of defence!
Julius Martov opposed the closing of the Constitutional Assemble of Russia and became an opponent of the Bolshevik led socialist revolution. Although he opposed the Bolsheviks and the rule of soviets, he did supported the Red Army against the Whites during the civil war. He hated the Red Terror and said; "The beast has licked hot human blood. The man-killing machine is brought into motion.... But blood breeds blood.... We witness the growth of the bitterness of the civil war, the growing bestiality of men engaged in it.". He also criticized the banning of newspapers who were critical of the revolution!
Lenin's Russian Social Democratic Workers Party took power after November 1917. They soon faced opposition from almost all capitalist and reformist socialist parties and groups. The Russian right-wing with support from western imperialism created the White Armies. These anticommunists got support from 200.000 western soldiers ( including 40.000 British ) send by the capitalist governments to crush Lenin and the soviets. Although the modern capitalist media claims that Lenin was a cruel dictator, he was not at all authoritarian at first. Lenin authoritarianism only came when the White Armies started murdering members of the Soviet government and supporters of the RSDWP ( Bolsheviks ).
In March 1918, the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party ( Bolsheviks ) renamed itself into Russian Communist Party. This was the first time since the death of Karl Marx, that a party called itself communist again. This was done to show that Lenin's party was a revolutionary communist party and a party of the socialist revolution. There was little violence after the revolution, but this was the silence before the storm. White Army forces soon started with their White Terror, murdering and killing at random. Lenin did not choose for terror, he was forced into it by the civil war and the terrorist attacks of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. This became clear when Lenin himself was almost killed by a terrorist of the SRP. On 30 August 1918, Lenin spoke at a factory and was shot after leaving. He survived the attack, but realized that his revolution was in danger of collapsing to terrorism and invasion!
The Red Terror was launched to arrest and eliminate enemies of the Soviet government. Julius Martov was a opponent of this terror, but he was not the only one. Many Bolsheviks were not happy with the cruel way's of the Cherka, the secret police forces. But Lenin and Trotsky defended the Red Terror and said that the revolution has the right to defend itself against terrorism and foreign enemies.
Unlike the parties who opposed the rule of soviets, the left SR and the pro-soviet Mensheviks were not banned after 1917. The Soviet government only banned them after they gave political support to enemies of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. The left-wing of the Socialist Revolutionary Party opposed the Bolsheviks after the peace deal with Germany. This is why they started to use terrorist attacks on German officers and Soviet officials. The Mensheviks were not banned until after February 1921, when they gave political support to the Kronstadt uprising. Supporting the enemies of the revolution was the reason why they were banned. Revolutionary socialists say that this was their own fault, they choose to oppose the soviets and the Congress of Soviets in favour of supporting individual terrorism and anti-Soviet uprisings!
By 1922, the Russian Communist Party was the only allowed party in Russia. This was not done because Lenin wanted this since 1917, but because the opposition to Lenin was trying to remove him by force. The 200.000 invaders were welcomed by the opposition. A clear example of this we see in the capital of Azerbaijan, were British forces executed 26 Bolsheviks after the Mensheviks surrendered the local soviet to them. Japanese soldiers kept Vladivostok occupied until October 1922. It would not be until after 1920, that the western armies were pulled out of Russia, to stop workers from rebelling in Europe and the USA. This gave the Red Army an advantage, because the White Armies were poorly led, many generals fought to control the White movement. One of their best leaders was Alexander Kochlak, who was captured and executed in 1920. With his death, the White Armies lost the Russian Civil War. The last anticommunist strongholds were captured in 1923!
In December 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was founded. But Lenin and Trotsky would not be able to stop the degeneration of their party and revolution. Forces too powerful for them took command and created a totalitarian dictatorship. Was stalinism the result of leninism? Yes, say the anticommunists, liberals, conservatives, social democrats and anarchists. No, Lenin did what he had to do under the difficult circumstances. The Red Terror may have helped Stalin true, but win out the Red Terror the Soviet state could have collapsed to the White Terror. We known this because the White Terror would kill many communists in the 20th century. The most famous White Terror is that of General Suharto who killed 500.000 members of the Communist Party of Indonesia. This could have happened to Lenin's party too in 1918 and he knew this!