What is Bolshevism?

Adam Hill

Bolshevism is the term used to describe the beliefs and practices of the Bolsheviks, the members of a political movement in Russia during the early 20th century. This movement, which was founded by Vladimir Lenin, led the Bolsheviks to seize power in October 1917 as part of the Russian Revolution. That event was the culmination of a strategy that had been in development since 1903. Originally, the terms "Bolshevism" and "Bolshevik" were used in reference to one faction of the Socialist Democratic Labor Party, which favored a hard line and the acceptance of only full-fledged revolutionaries into the party. Bolshevism has since come to be synonymous with Soviet-style communism.

Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.
Sculpture of Karl Marx (foreground) and Friedrich Engels.

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks

The term "Bolshevism" comes from the Russian word bolshe, which means "larger" or "more." In reality, the Bolsheviks did not constitute a clear majority compared with their opposition, the Mensheviks, but they did narrowly defeat the Mensheviks in deciding the question that had divided them, which concerned party membership. Both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks shared a general political philosophy, but they tended to operate more or less independently of each other.

The Bolshevist movement was founded by Vladimir Lenin in the early 20th Century.
The Bolshevist movement was founded by Vladimir Lenin in the early 20th Century.


The philosophy that they shared was Marxism, more generally known as communism. It favored a revolution in which the working class would rise up and overthrow the capitalist class. The result of such an overthrow would be wide popular control of the factors of production, rather than having them remain in the hands of the capitalists. Workers, instead, would run government and industry in something called the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Dichotomy within Bolshevism

Although the party to which the Bolsheviks belonged did focus on the Russian working class in its efforts, Lenin and the Bolsheviks ultimately won control because they recognized the political value of appealing to the peasantry as well. Most Bolsheviks were either highly educated intellectuals or factory workers. This dichotomy would lead to considerable division later.

Bolshevism in Practice

For most of their history before 1917, the Bolsheviks were not successful in achieving widespread public support. This was in part because they had their own internal divisions to deal with, even after a formal split from the Mensheviks. For instance, factory workers understandably favored the aspects of Bolshevism that would help their families, but not those that would put the intellectuals into power. Also, although Lenin believed in strict adherence to the principles of Marxism, there were other party intellectuals who considered Marxism as not so much a set of truths but a collection of untruths or myths that were nevertheless useful if workers believed them.

The Bolshevist movement eventually evolved into a one-party dictatorship. To achieve its means, the government engaged in radical and often violent pursuits, such as collectivizing agriculture and conducting purges of perceived enemies. Many of its practices made it the subject of at least as much resentment and distrust as the ruthless imperialist system that preceded Bolshevism.

The politburos of communist states act as oligarchies that make economic decisions for all consumers in the societies they plan.
The politburos of communist states act as oligarchies that make economic decisions for all consumers in the societies they plan.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@MikeMason-- Yea, it's the same thing. It was Bolshevik doctrine that formed the basis of Communism in the Soviet Union.

I think the most important aspect of Bolshevism and the Bolshevik Revolution from a US standpoint is that it marks the start of the Cold War.

Not many people talk about this but US was actually one of several countries that worked to prevent the Bolsheviks from gaining power in Russia but failed. Then, there was the fear that Communism would come to US. Bolshevism and Communism was clearly not influential in the US but all of this triggered a lot of hostility and fear between Russia and US for a very long time.


@MikeMason-- The Mensheviks were still around in the early 1900s but the group basically fell apart in 1920. The Bolsheviks were in power by that time and the Mensheviks really couldn't do anything to oppose them.

It's really interesting because Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were essentially the same group. Lenin is the only reason why the Socialist party broke up into these factions. If it weren't for Lenin's differing ideals and his popularity, the party would have remained together but they probably would have never gained power.


So when we say "communists," we're actually talking about the Bolsheviks right? Because they were the ones who took power.

What happened to the Mensheviks after this? Did they just join the Bolsheviks?


@indigomoth - That's the sad thing about Marxism, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the way it was interpreted left no room for new ideas, no room for improvement. You can see that in the original ideals of the Bolsheviks. They basically believed you either completely accepted all of their beliefs about how the world should be, or you were considered an enemy.

I've always thought it was a shame that communism should have been pushed and modified to condone violence, fear-mongering and blame. Instead of being a philosophy that everyone, including the rich and the poor, deserves to have happiness and freedom and basic human rights independent of their station, it just tried to flip it over so that the poor could take the place of the rich.

The Orwell novel, 1984 says it much better than I ever could, of course.


@ampm1984 - There is a huge amount of information available online about communism. I would recommend starting off by reading Marx's The Communist Manifesto and going from there. It's a massive topic, as, at one point, it seemed like half the world was trying to follow communism and it might even become the most dominant doctrine on the planet.

However, most of the systems that claim to be communist now aren't really even close to it (if they ever were). I would definitely recommend looking at all the information you find with a critical eye, as there has been a lot of propaganda written about communism and Marxism and most of it is misleading and inaccurate.


Can you tell me something more about communism, Marxism, and Bolshevism?


The true picture of Bolsheviks has been presented scholarly here. Really i was not aware the facts you have presented here. It is a very useful piece of information about Bolshevism.

Post your comments
Forgot password?