The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia

The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia

The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia

The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia

Excerpt

It has often been remarked that many of the problems besetting the emergent nations today may be understood more clearly in the light of the history of Russia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The parallels are numerous and sometimes striking. Rapid industrialization, the development of modern communications, and the spread of education undermined popular respect for established authority. Millions of men and women in town and country were shocked into an awareness of the opportunities that existed for a radical transformation of their way of life. The autocracy was unable either to satisfy their demands or to suppress them. As the movement of protest grew stronger, intellectuals familiar with advanced Western thought strove to bring it under their own control and use it to overthrow the existing régime. The revolutionary dynamic was sufficiently powerful to bring about far-reaching changes within a relatively brief historical span. But it could also lead to the extinction of the ideals to which the masses themselves aspired, for the road from freedom to dictatorship is shorter than men generally believe.

Some sixty years ago Russia experienced the greatest social upheaval that Europe had seen since the French Revolution. Its significance was largely overlooked by contemporary observers in the West. Although there was a certain amount of sympathy among radicals for what was loosely termed 'the Russian liberation movement', little serious attention was given to the fundamental issues at stake. In Great Britain it was not until the First World War that Russian history and politics came to be recognized as fitting subjects for academic study. By this time there was a tremendous leeway to make up. It was only to be expected that the Russian crisis of 1904-7 should be by-passed, or treated simply as a prelude to the much greater cataclysm in 1917, rather than as a phenomenon in its own right. Even now its history remains to be written.

The present volume does not attempt to provide a comprehensive account of 'the first Russian revolution', but is concerned with one relatively limited problem: the role played by the Social-Democratic Party. It was in 1905 that this party was first able to exercise a significant influence on the Russian political scene. Its activities can only be understood in the light of its basic philosophy, which took shape in the 1880's, and its history during the formative years of development, in the late 1890's and early 1900's. Chiefly for reasons of space, less detailed consideration has been given here to the years 1906-7, when . . .

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