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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a consistently revolutionary Marxist current of political thought within the international workers’ movement. It arose in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century and was embodied in a political party of a new type, the Bolshevik Party, founded by V. I. Lenin. Bolshevism began to take shape in the period in which the center of the world revolutionary movement had shifted to Russia. The concept of Bolshevism originated in connection with the vote at the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903 to elect the leading bodies of the Party; in the vote Lenin’s supporters constituted the majority (bol’shinstvo; hence, bol’sheviki, or majority supporters), and the opportunists constituted the minority (men’shinstvo; hence, men’sheviki, or minority supporters). “As a current of political thought and as a political party, Bolshevism has existed since 1903” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41, p. 6).

The theoretical basis of Bolshevism is Marxism-Leninism. Lenin defined Bolshevism “as the adaptation of revolutionary Marxism to the particular conditions of the epoch” (ibid., vol. 21, p. 13). Bolshevism embodies the unity of revolutionary theory and practice, and combines the ideological, organizational, and tactical principles developed by Lenin. Bolshevism, which generalized the experience of the revolutionary movement in Russia and the world, represented a contribution of great importance by the Russian working class to the international Communist and workers’ movement.

As a political party, the Bolshevik Party is a proletarian party of a new type, differing in principle from the parties of the Second International which had existed during the time of the organization and development of the International. The Bolshevik Party is the party of social revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat—the party of communism. Bolshevism conducted a struggle against liberal populism, which substituted petit bourgeois reformism for the revolutionary liberation movement; against “legal Marxism,” which tried to subordinate the workers’ movement to the interests of the bourgeoisie while waving the flag of Marxism; and against “economism,” the first opportunist current to arise in the milieu of the Marxist groups and circles in Russia. Bolshevism grew and was tempered in the struggle against hostile political parties and tendencies: the Cadets, the bourgeois nationalists, the Socialist Revolutionaries, the anarchists, and the Mensheviks. Of the greatest historical significance was Bolshevism’s battle against Menshevism—the chief variety of opportunism in the workers’ movement of Russia. This was a battle for a proletarian party of a new type and for the leading role to be taken by the working class in the revolutionary battles against the autocracy and capitalism. Bolshevism always protected the purity of its own ranks with a watchful eye and fought against opportunist tendencies within the Bolshevik Party, such as the Otzovists, the “Left Communists,” Trotskyism, the “Workers’ Opposition,” the right deviation in the ACP (Bolshevik), and other antiparty groups.

A characteristic feature of Bolshevism is its consistent proletarian internationalism. From the moment of its inception it has conducted a resolute and principled struggle in the international workers’ movement for the purity of Marxist-Leninist theory; for the unity of scientific socialism with the workers’ movement; against Bernsteinism; against opportunists, revisionists, sectarians, and dogmatists of every kind; and against centrism and social chauvinism in the Second International. At the same time the Bolsheviks, true to the ideas of proletarian internationalism, untiringly strove to bring together the left elements in the Western European Social Democratic parties. By directing the left Social Democrats down the path of consistent revolutionary struggle and patiently explaining their mistakes and departures from Marxism to them, the Bolsheviks helped to consolidate all the revolutionary Marxists. From the time of World War I, the Bolsheviks headed the revolutionary tendency in the international workers’ movement on the basis of the left elements in the Western European Social Democratic parties brought together by Lenin. After the October Revolution this revolutionary tendency took organizational form in the Communist parties and the Third International (Comintern), in which they were united. As those who had most consistently put into practice the Marxist-Leninist teachings on socialist revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the building of socialism, as well as the organizational, strategic, and tactical principles of socialism, the Bolsheviks were recognized by the Comintern as the model for the activity of all Communist parties. At the same time the Fifth Congress of the Comintern in 1924 emphasized that this recognition “should in no case be understood to imply a mechanical transference of the entire experience of the Bolshevik Party in Russia to all other parties” (Kommunisticheskii Internatsional v dokumentakh. 1919–1932, 1933, p. 411). The congress defined the basic features of a Bolshevik Party. Under all circumstances, the Party was to know how to maintain indissoluble connections with the mass of the workers and be the sounding board for their needs and aspirations, and be capable of flexibility in maneuver—that is, the tactics of the Party should not be dogmatic, but in resorting to strategical maneuvers in the revolutionary struggle they should in no case depart from Marxist principles. And under all circumstances the Party was to make the maximum effort to bring the victory of the working class closer. “It should be a centralized party not permitting factions, tendencies, or groupings, a monolithic party cast from a single mold” (ibid.). The history of Bolshevism has no equal in wealth of experience. True to its program, which was adopted in 1903, the Bolshevik Party led the struggle of the popular masses of Russia against tsarism and capitalism in three revolutions: the bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1905–07, the February bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1917, and the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.

Putting revolutionary theory, strategy, and tactics into practice, the Bolshevik Party united the struggle of the working class for socialism, the general popular movement for peace, the peasant struggle for land, and the national liberation struggle of the oppressed peoples of Russia into a single revolutionary current. The Bolsheviks guided these forces toward the overthrow of the capitalist system. As a result of the victory of the socialist revolution of 1917 in Russia, the dictatorship of the proletariat was established, and for the first time in history, a socialist country came into existence. The first Party program, adopted in 1903, had been fulfilled.

Having secured the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Bolshevik Party took charge of the work of creating and strengthening Soviet power; it organized the defense of the Soviet Republic during the Civil War of 1918–20. In March 1919 at the Eighth Congress of the RCP (Bolshevik), the Party adopted its second program, worked out under Lenin’s guidance; this laid out the practical task of building a socialist society. In organizing the force of the Soviet people to restore the national economy, bring about the socialist industrialization of the country and the collectivization of agriculture, and carry out a cultural revolution, the Party assured the victory of socialism in the USSR. Thus the high road to socialism for the toilers of all countries was laid out. The Bolshevik Party led the Soviet people to victory in the years of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 and organized the reconstruction and further development of the socialist national economy. “As a result of the victory of socialism in the USSR and of the strengthening of the unity of Soviet society, the Communist Party of the working class has become the vanguard of the Soviet people, the Party of the entire people” (Programma KPSS, 1965, p. 136). The completion of socialist construction signified the fulfillment of the Party’s second program. The Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, adopted by the Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU in 1961, is the program for the building of communism. The Communist Party now heads the struggle of the Soviet people for the creation of the material-technical base for communism.

Embodying in itself the development of revolutionary theory that is inseparably connected with real life, Bolshevism has played an enormous role in disclosing the basic laws and working out the ways for realizing the socialist revolution, building socialism and communism, and creating and developing a world socialist commonwealth. Bolshevism has withstood the test of time. Historical experience has shown that parties that call themselves “communist” but which deviate from the basic principles of Bolshevism invariably go astray into the swamp of “right” or “left” opportunism. The worldwide historical experience of the Bolshevik Party is the most precious possession of the fraternal Communist and workers’ parties of all countries, and it aids them in their struggle for the victory of the cause of peace, democracy, and socialism.

The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) officially adopted the name RSDLP (Bolshevik) at the Seventh (April) Conference of the Party in 1917. In March 1918 it became the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), or RCP (Bolshevik); in December 1925 it became the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik), or the ACP (Bolshevik). The Nineteenth Party Congress in 1952 decided to change the name to “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).”


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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