Russian Social Democratic Workers' party

Russian Social Democratic Workers' party (Russian: Rossiiskaia sotsial-demokraticheskaia rabochaia partiia, or RSDRP). The Marxist (later Communist) party of the Russian Empire. It was formed by local Marxist groups, which sprang up in the 1890s. Its founding congress was held in Minsk in March 1898 and was attended by only nine delegates, from the Saint Petersburg and Moscow groups, the Jewish Bund, the small Kyiv newspaper Rabochaia gazeta, and the Kyiv and Katerynoslav groups. The Minsk Congress was inconsequential, and most of the delegates were soon arrested.

An enduring controversy over goals and strategy divided the party. The so-called Economists favored legal methods of class struggle and a broadly based workers' movement that would become a political force. Their opponents, with Vladimir Lenin in the forefront, gave priority to the political struggle and contended that the preoccupation with economic issues would lead to reforms instead of the political revolution. Lenin's rejection of ‘economism’ was linked closely to his effort to reorganize the RSDRP into a very different kind of party. He advocated a party with a limited membership of dedicated and tested professional revolutionaries, well trained in conspiratorial methods. Opposition to Lenin's views emerged at the Second Congress (held in Brussels and London, August 1903) and split the RSDRP into the Bolshevik (majoritarian) and Menshevik (minoritarian) factions. Lenin's claim to the majority support in the party was untrue. His victory in 1903 was accidental, and the Stockholm Congress (April–May 1906) showed that the majority of the party supported the Mensheviks. At the May 1907 Congress in London neither faction obtained a clear majority; the balance of power was held by representatives of the Jewish Bund and Polish and Latvian delegates. After efforts to heal the breach between the factions in 1905–11 failed, Lenin held his own party conference in Prague in January 1912, elected a new Central Committee, and named his faction the RSDRP (Bolshevik). In March 1918 it changed its name to the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) or RCP(B).

In Ukraine the RSDRP had attracted mostly members of a minority—the Russian urban workers as well as some intellectuals and Jews. It had no appeal for the largely peasant Ukrainian population and the Ukrainian intelligentsia. The RSDRP in Ukraine was not a unified organization but reflected various divisions. Besides the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, who were initially more numerous in Ukraine, it encompassed the Jewish Bundists, who favored national cultural (nonterritorial) autonomy and opposed Lenin's policy of assimilating Jews. The RSDRP had to contend with the emergence in 1905 of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers' party (USDRP), which demanded that socialist parties be organized on the basis of nationality. The RSDRP tried to use the Ukrainian Social Democratic Spilka against the USDRP.

Both the Bolshevik and the Menshevik factions of the RSDRP opposed Ukrainian independence. Although both factions participated in the Central Rada in 1917, they withdrew when independence was proclaimed. When the RSDRP (Bolshevik) had to give up Kyiv in 1918 after signing the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, it was confronted with an identity problem. Under the impact of defeat and retreat the party adopted the name Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine (CP[B]U) at its founding congress in Moscow on 5–12 July 1918. But it was Ukrainian only in name: its membership was mostly Russian and Jewish, and its leadership was largely non-Ukrainian and dominated by the so-called Katerynoslav group. The key Ukrainian leaders in the CP(B)U were Volodymyr Zatonsky, Mykola Skrypnyk, Vasyl Shakhrai, and Yurii Kotsiubynsky. Attempts to free the CP(B)U from the control of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) were condemned by Vladimir Lenin and defeated by the non-Ukrainian leaders of the party.

Reshetar, J. A Concise History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (New York 1960)
Schapiro, L. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Cambridge 1960; 2nd rev edn 1970)
Elwood, R. Russian Social Democracy in the Underground: A Study of the RSDRP in the Ukraine, 1907–1914 (Assen 1975)

John Reshetar

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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