Julius Martov
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Julius Martov

Julius Martov
Yuliy Osipovich Tsederbaum

(1873-11-24)24 November 1873
Died4 April 1923(1923-04-04) (aged 49)

Julius Martov or L. Martov (born Yuliy Osipovich Tsederbaum/Zederbaum; 24 November 1873 - 4 April 1923) was a politician and revolutionary who became the leader of the Mensheviks in early 20th-century Russia.[1] He was an old friend and mentor of Leon Trotsky,[2] who described him as the "Hamlet of Democratic Socialism".[3]

Early life

Martov was born to a middle-class Jewish family in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (modern day Istanbul). His sister was the fellow Menshevik leader Lydia Dan. He was arrested as a teenager, and his grandfather paid 300 roubles to bail him out. Instead of accepting his grandfather's suggestion of emigrating to the United States of America, he chose to be exiled for two years in Vilna (now Vilnius).[4] He recounted that the famine crisis made him a Marxist: "It suddenly became clear to me how superficial and groundless the whole of my revolutionism had been until then, and how my subjective political romanticism was dwarfed before the philosophical and sociological heights of Marxism".[5]

In Russia, Martov was originally a close colleague of Vladimir Lenin and with him, and a small group of Marxist intellectuals, founded the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in 1895.[6] The founders were arrested almost immediately after its establishment; it could however claim some success when local activists of the union organised the textile strike of 30,000 workers in 1896.[7] Both Martov and Lenin were exiled to Siberia for this: Martov was sent to the village of Turukhansk in the Arctic, while Lenin was sent to Shushenskoye in the comparatively warm "Siberian Italy".[8]


Forced to leave Russia and with other radical political figures living in exile, Martov joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). Martov and Lenin were both founding members of the party journal Iskra in 1900.[9][10] In Munich, Martov was on the editorial board alongside Lenin and Potresov.[11] Martov was one of the Marxists who wanted Nikolay Bauman expelled from the party after an incident where he drove a party member to suicide after drawing a vicious cartoon of her.[12]

Martov was initially on good terms with the Jewish Bund. However, Martov would eventually have a critical parallel role with Lenin in the opposition to the Bund from the positions of the RSDLP.[13] At the Second Congress of the RSDLP in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Martov and Lenin over who was to be considered a 'member' of the RSDLP. Lenin had published his ideas for moving the party forward in his pamphlet What Is to Be Done?, which was a document putting forward the views of the entire Iskra group led by Lenin and Martov. However, in the London Congress of the party, differing definitions of party membership were put forward by the two men. Lenin argued for a restricted membership of fully committed cadre while Martov argued for a looser interpretation of membership. Martov later refused to participate in the editorial board of Iskra with Lenin and Georgi Plekhanov, after Lenin had removed the three Menshevik veterans Axelrod, Potresov and Zasulich.[14]


Martov and Lenin based their ideas for party organization on those prevailing in the Western European social democratic parties, with particular influence from Germany. The split with Lenin was based in differences of the wording of article one of the party statute, concerning membership definition, at the Second Party Congress in Brussels. Martov believed that RSDLP sympathizers who were willing to obey the party's leadership and recognize the party's program should be admitted as party members, as well as those people who were fully paid up party members who participated in one of party's organizations; while Lenin wanted clear dividing lines between party members and party sympathizers, with party membership being limited to those people who were fully paid up party members who participated in one of the party's organisations.[15] Martov's view prevailed at first 28 to 23 votes, but the 5 Bundist delegates and 2 Economists walked out in reaction for the denying of their respective issues, and Lenin's view now won a slight majority.[16] They referred to themselves as Bolsheviks throughout the Congress, hence their adoption of the name Bolshevik which literally means 'person of the majority'. The minority or 'Menshevik' faction adopted the corresponding title. The vote on the editorial board was not seen as important by any of the disputants at the time, and in fact the Bolsheviks were generally in a minority but some delegates had not been present for the crucial vote who would otherwise have voted for the Mensheviks.

Martov was one of the Jewish Marxist leaders (alongside Trotsky), who rejected the demands for Jewish national autonomy, with the Iskra group favouring class interests over nationalism; he was therefore deeply opposed to the Bundists' Jewish nationalism.[17]

Martov was described as being "too good an intellectual to be a successful politician", as he often was held back by his integrity, and "philosophical approach" to matters of politics.[3] He tended to select political allies primarily by the "coherence of their general worldview", instead of "practicality" or "timeliness".[3] His "high minded approach" would later win rounds of applause among the socialist intelligentsia.[3] Nonetheless, Martov's noble principles made him too "soft" and "indecisive", at time when the opposite were politically required of him.[18] He has been described as a "brilliant intellectual and party theoretician".[18]


Together with fellow Vilno Social Democrat, Arkady Kremer, Martov explained the strategy involving mass agitation and participating in Jewish strikes, by also sometimes learning Yiddish to win over their support, in the work On Agitation (1895). The plan detailed that workers were to see a need for broader political campaigning through participating in strikes, led by the Social Democrats as trade unions were banned under the Tsarist regime.[19]

Leaders of the Menshevik Party at Norra Bantorget in Stockholm, Sweden, May 1917. Pavel Axelrod, Julius Martov and Alexander Martinov

Martov became one of the outstanding Menshevik leaders along with George Plekhanov, Fedor Dan and Irakli Tsereteli. Leon Trotsky too was a member of the Menshevik faction for a brief period but soon broke with them.

Martov was in exile during the strikes following Bloody Sunday.[20]

After the reforms brought about by the 1905 Revolution, Martov argued that it was the role of revolutionaries to provide a militant opposition to the new bourgeois government. He advocated the joining together of a network of organisations, trade unions, cooperatives, village councils and soviets, to harass the bourgeois government until the economic and social conditions made it possible for a socialist revolution to take place.

Martov was always to be found on the left wing of the Menshevik faction and supported the reunification with the Bolsheviks in 1905. That fragile unity was short lived, however, and by 1907 the two factions had again split in two. In 1911 Martov notably wrote the pamphlet "Spasiteli ili uprazdniteli? Kto i kak razrushal R.S.-D.R.P.," "Saviours or destroyers? Who destroyed the RSDLP and how", which denounced the Bolsheviks for, among other things, raising money by "expropriations," that is, robbing banks.[21] This pamphlet was denounced by both Kautsky and Lenin.

Martov was joined by Trotsky in Paris in November 1914, where he collaborated with him on Nashe Slovo ("Our Word").[22] He was the only contributor to Nashe Slovo not to align with Lenin in 1917.[23]

In 1914, Martov opposed the First World War, which he viewed as an imperialist war in terms very similar to those of Lenin and Trotsky. He therefore became the central leader of the Menshevik Internationalist faction which organized in opposition to the Menshevik Party leadership. In 1915, he sided with Lenin at an international conference in Switzerland, but later repudiated the Bolsheviks.[24] The 'internationalist' minority in the Menshevik party favored a campaign for 'democratic peace'.[25]

Martov was the designer of the idea of exchanging Russian Marxist exiles for German citizens interned in Russia. This way, the Russian Marxists revolutionary leaders, including Lenin, would manage to return to Russia following the February revolution of 1917. The Provisional Government was however unwilling to agree to the exchange, and Martov agreed to wait.[26]

The February Revolution

At the onset of the 1917 Revolution, Martov was in Zurich with Lenin.[27]

After the February Revolution in 1917, Martov returned to Russia but was too late to stop some Mensheviks joining the Provisional Government. He strongly criticized those Mensheviks such as Irakli Tsereteli and Fedor Dan who, now part of Russia's government, supported the war effort. However, at a conference held on 18 June 1917, he failed to gain the support of the delegates for a policy of immediate peace negotiations with the Central Powers.

He was unable to enter in an alliance with his rival Lenin to form a coalition in 1917, despite it being the 'logical outcome' according to the majority of his left wing supporters in the Menshevik faction.[3]

The October Revolution

When the Bolsheviks came to power as a result of the October Revolution in 1917, Martov became politically marginalised. He believed that the only way to avoid a civil war was through a 'united democratic government' based on the parties of the soviet. His proposal was met with 'torrents of applause' in the Soviet.[28] Martov's faction as a whole was however isolated. His view was denounced by Trotsky.[29] This is best exemplified by Trotsky's comment to him and other party members as they left the first meeting of the council of Soviets after 25 October 1917 in disgust at the way in which the Bolsheviks had seized political power: "You are pitiful isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on--into the dustbin of history!" To this Martov replied in a moment of rage, "Then we'll leave!", and then walked in silence away without looking back. He paused at the exit, seeing a young Bolshevik worker wearing a black shirt with a broad leather belt, standing in the shadow of the portico. The young man turned on Martov with unconcealed bitterness: "And we amongst ourselves had thought, Martov would at least remain with us". Martov stopped, and with a characteristic movement, tossed up his head to emphasize his reply: "One day you will understand the crime in which you are taking part". Waving his hand wearily, he left the hall.[30]

For a while Martov led the Menshevik opposition group in the Constituent Assembly until the Bolsheviks abolished it. Later, when a factory section chose Martov as their delegate ahead of Lenin in a Soviet election, it found its supplies reduced soon afterwards.[31]

Civil war

During the Russian Civil War, Martov supported the Red Army against the White Army; however, he continued to denounce the persecution of non-violent political opponents of the Bolsheviks, whether Social Democrats, trade unionists, anarchists, or newspapers.

Speaking of the Red Terror, Martov said: "The beast has licked hot human blood. The man-killing machine is brought into motion... But blood breeds blood... We witness the growth of the bitterness of the civil war, the growing bestiality of men engaged in it."[32]

In October 1920, Martov was given permission to legally leave Russia and go to Germany. Martov spoke at the Halle Congress of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany later that month. Martov had not intended to stay in Germany indefinitely, and only did so after the Mensheviks were outlawed in March 1921, following the Tenth Congress of the ruling Communist Party. In 1922, learning Martov was ill, Lenin asked Stalin to transfer funds to Berlin to contribute to Martov's medical care, but Stalin refused.[33] Martov died in Schömberg, Germany, in April 1923. Before his fatal illness, he launched the newspaper Sotsialisticheskiy vestnik ("Socialist Courier"), which remained the publication of the Mensheviks in exile in Berlin, Paris, and eventually New York until the last of them had died.


  • Julius Martov, "The Lesson of the Events in Russia", Le Socialisme, 29 December 1907;
  • The State and the Socialist Revolution (1938, New York) (1977, London), Trans. Herman Jerson
  • Yuliy Osipovich Martov, "Down with the Death Penalty!", June/July 1918;
  • What is to be done? (July 1919, Mensheviks);
  • Julius Martov, "The Ideology of «Sovietism»", First published in Mysl', Kharkov 1919;
  • Julius Martov, "Decomposition or Conquest of the State", Introductory section published in Sozialisticheski Vestnik (Berlin) 8 July & 1 September 1921; the whole article appeared for the first time in Mirovoi Bolshevism, Berlin 1923;
  • Martov and Zinoviev: Head to head in Halle (2011, London) November Publications


  1. ^ Israel Getzler, Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (2003).
  2. ^ Figes, p. 295
  3. ^ a b c d e Figes, p. 468
  4. ^ Shindler, Colin (2012). Israel and the European Left. New York: Continuum. p. 4.
  5. ^ Figes, p. 162
  6. ^ Tony Cliff (1986) Lenin: Building the Party 1893-1914. London, Bookmarks: 52-59
  7. ^ Figes, p. 148
  8. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin, page 96
  9. ^ Tony Cliff (1986) Lenin: Building the Party 1893-1914. London, Bookmarks: 100
  10. ^ Figes, p. 149
  11. ^ Figes, p. 150
  12. ^ Figes, p. 198
  13. ^ Shukman, Harold (1961). The Relations Between the Jewish Bund and the RSDRP, 1897-1903. p. 277. (Shukman in fact states:) While Martov's contribution to the campaign against the Bund before Congress was publicly smaller than Lenin's as it consisted of only one article, in private and at the Congress he may in the long run have been the dominant figure.
  14. ^ Figes, p. 153
  15. ^ Figes, p. 151
  16. ^ Figes, p. 152
  17. ^ Figes, p. 82
  18. ^ a b Figes, p. 469
  19. ^ Figes, p. 147-8
  20. ^ Figes, p. 180
  21. ^ Martov : a political biography of a Russian social democrat by Israel Getzler. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1967. ISBN 0-521-52602-7 pp117,128
  22. ^ Figes, p. 294
  23. ^ Figes, p. 296
  24. ^ "Julius Martow is Dead: Russian Socialist, Enemy of Lenin, Was an Exile In Germany", The New York Times. 6 April 1923. Page 17. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  25. ^ Figes, p. 293
  26. ^ Figes, p. 385
  27. ^ Figes, p. 323
  28. ^ Figes, p. 489
  29. ^ Figes, p. 490
  30. ^ I henhold til Boris Ivanovich Nicolaevsky erindringer "Pages from the Past"
  31. ^ Martov : a political biography of a Russian social democrat by Israel Getzler. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1967. ISBN 0-521-52602-7
  32. ^ The Black book of Communism, p. 736.
  33. ^ Service, Robert (2005). Stalin: A Biography. Harvard University Press. p. 156.


  • Figes, Orlando (2014). A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. London: The Bodley Head. ISBN 9781847922915.

Further reading

  • Getzler, Israel. Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (2003).

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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