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Bolshevik (Russian for "majority") is the name given to the faction of the
Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (which later became known as the
Communist Party) led by Vladimir Lenin. The other faction was known as the
Mensheviks, meaning "minority".
The terms derive from the second congress of the RSDLP, held in Belgium in
1903, at which Lenin was able to persuade the majority to support him as
leader of the party. Many commentators point out the difficulties presented
to the Menshevik faction by getting lumbered with this name. In fact, the
Mensheviks were in the majority until the Bolshevik seizure of power in
October of 1917.
The Bolsheviks comprised the more radical of the two factions. Bolsheviks
were distinguished from the Mensheviks by a belief in limited Party
membership comprising professional full-time revolutionaries in a
centralised hierarchy striving to achieve power, a refusal to co-operate
with bourgeois democratic government or even eventually other socialist
organizations, and in addition the adoption of Lenin as great leader. The
Mensheviks favored open party membership and espoused cooperation with the
other socialist and some non-socialist groups in Russia.
Leon Trotsky was initially a member of Mensheviks, but in one of the key
defections from that wing of the party lined up behind Lenin after the First
After the revolution and subsequent banning of the Mensheviks and all other
political organizations, the Bolsheviks dropped that name and became known
simply as the Communist Party.