The Origins of Bolshevism – World Socialist Web Site


Vladmir Lenin

The Bolshevik tendency emerged out of the struggle led politically by Lenin (and, in the sphere of philosophy, by Plekhanov) against revisionist and opportunist tendencies within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Lenin (basing himself on the position developed earlier by Kautsky, the principal theoretician of the SPD) insisted that socialist consciousness did not develop spontaneously within the working class, but had to be brought into the workers’ movement. In his seminal work, What Is To Be Done? Lenin cited the following critical passage from the program of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party:

…Modern socialist consciousness can only arise on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow this to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without, and not something that arose within it spontaneously.[1]

The central task of the revolutionary party was to saturate the workers’ movement with Marxist theory. “Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement,” Lenin wrote, “the only choice is—either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‘third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society