Peasant uprisings had occurred periodically in Russia for centuries. In addition, repressed ethnic and national groups had revolted from time to time, and there was some religious dissent. However, in the 19th century a new kind of revolutionary movement developed. That movement was influenced by the Western European ideas of the Enlightenment concerning democracy, equality, and basic human rights. In the mid-19th century many intellectuals and university students from the upper and intermediate classes became increasingly discontented with Russia’s repressive regime and rigid society, engaging in illegal political activity, such as forming discussion groups and distributing pamphlets. Some embraced an idealistic political philosophy known as populism. These people advocated social changes that would benefit the masses of Russia’s people, especially the peasants. Still others were influenced by anarchist ideas, opposing all forms of government. However, many revolutionaries were increasingly influenced by a variety of socialist ideas.
Some socialist revolutionary groups focused their attention on the peasant majority. They hoped that terrorist actions—such as assassinating the tsar or an especially tyrannical public official—would help spark a revolutionary uprising. Such an uprising would make possible the creation of a new economy largely based on traditional peasant communes. Those who held these ideas eventually formed the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) party in 1901. Of greater historical significance were those socialist revolutionaries who identified with the ideas of German political philosopher Karl Marx. These socialists were known as Marxists. They believed that the working class—with its struggles to organize trade unions and to bring about political reforms of benefit to the majority of people—would become the primary force for revolutionary change.
The Russian Marxists formed the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) in 1898. By 1903, however, the RSDLP had split into two factions. The faction called the Bolsheviks (from the Russian word for “majority”), led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, favored a more centralized and disciplined party. The faction called the Mensheviks (from the Russian word for “minority”) was more loosely organized and included a less politically cohesive mixture of radicals and moderates. Some individuals who favored revolutionary change in Russia but who were not socialists formed a liberal party in 1905. They were known as the Constitutional Democrats (nicknamed the Cadets). This party represented primarily the educated and propertied classes.
Initially, all of these political groups—SRs, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Cadets—believed that what Russia needed immediately was a revolution to replace tsarism with a democratic republic. They all believed that this first step would foster the development of a more thoroughgoing capitalist economy, a development that would “modernize” Russia. The liberals believed that democratic and capitalist development in itself was a desirable goal, while the Marxists believed that it would pave the way for socialism. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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