The Mensheviks (Minority) (Меньшевик, ) were a faction of the Russian revolutionary movement that emerged in 1903 after a dispute between Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov, both members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The dispute originated at the Second Congress of that party, ostensibly over minor issues of party organization. Martov's supporters, who were eventually left in the minority at congress, came to be called "Mensheviks", derived from the Russian word меньшинство (men'shinstvo, "minority"), whereas Lenin's adherents were known as "Bolsheviks", from bol'shinstvo ("majority"). The split proved to be long-standing and had to do both with pragmatic issues based in history such as the failed revolution of 1905, and theoretical issues of class leadership, class alliances, and bourgeois democracy. While both factions believed that a bourgeois democratic revolution was necessary, the Mensheviks generally tended to be more moderate and were more positive towards the "mainstream" liberal opposition. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, preferred collaboration with other radicals and with the peasantry.
After several attempts at reunification and new splits, with many figures changing sides between the two groups, the struggle between them reached a new peak in the months before and after the October Revolution, as the Mensheviks were aligned with the Provisional Government, while the Bolsheviks were seeking to topple it. After the Revolution, with the Bolsheviks in power, the Mensheviks were left in an ambiguous position and were divided between supporting the White and the Red side in the Civil War. The party was eventually outlawed by the Soviets in 1921; some of its former members (including most leaders) emigrated and others joined the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), as it had been called since 1918.
At the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in August 1903, Lenin and Martov disagreed, first about which persons should be in the editorial committee of the party newspaper Iskra, and then about the definition of a "party member" in the future party statute. While the difference in the definitions was very small, with Lenin's being slightly more exclusive (Lenin's formulation required the party member to be a member of one of the party's organizations, whereas Martov's only stated that he should work under the guidance of a party organization), it was indicative of what became an essential difference between the philosophies of the two emerging factions: uyifor a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters, whereas Martov believed it was better to have a large party of activists with broad representation. Martov's proposal was accepted by the majority of the delegates. After several delegates, including representatives of the Jewish Bund, stormed out of the Congress in protest for unrelated reasons, Lenin's supporters won a slight majority, which was reflected in the composition of the Central Committee and the other central Party organs elected at the Congress. That was also the reason for the above-mentioned names of the factions. Despite the outcome of the congress, the following years saw the Mensheviks gathering considerable support among regular Social Democrats and effectively building up a parallel party organization.
Just as before, both factions believed that Russia was not developed to a point at which socialism was possible and believed that the revolution for which they fought to overthrow the Tsarist regime would be a bourgeois democratic revolution. Both believed that the working class had to contribute to this revolution. However, after 1905, the Mensheviks were more inclined towards collaboration with liberal bourgeois parties such as the Constitutional Democrats, because these would be the "natural" leaders of a bourgeois revolution; in contrast, the Bolsheviks didn't believe that the Constitutional Democrats were capable of sufficiently radical struggle and tended to advocate alliances with peasant representatives and other radical socialist parties such as the Socialist Revolutionaries. In the event of a revolution, this was meant to lead to a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which would carry the bourgeois revolution to the end. Later, the Mensheviks came to use predominantly legal methods and trade union work, while the Bolsheviks had a more favourable stance towards armed insurrection.
Many Mensheviks left the party after the defeat of 1905 and joined more legal opposition organisations. After a while, Lenin's patience wore out with their compromising and in 1908 he called these Mensheviks "liquidationists". Eventually, the Bolsheviks declared their faction to be the party in 1912 with the aid of a handful of Mensheviks; thus, the split was official again. The Menshevik faction split further in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. Most Mensheviks opposed the war, but a vocal right-wing minority supported it in terms of "national defense".
With the collapse of the monarchy, many social democrats viewed previous tactical differences between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks as a thing of the past and a number of local party organizations were merged. When Bolshevik leaders Lev Kamenev, Joseph Stalin and Matvei Muranov returned to Petrograd from Siberian exile in early March 1917 and assumed the leadership of the Bolshevik party, they began exploring the idea of a complete re-unification of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the national level, which Menshevik leaders were willing to consider. However, Lenin and his deputy Grigory Zinoviev returned to Russia from their Swiss exile on April 3, 1917 and re-asserted control of the Bolshevik party by late April 1917, taking it in a more radical, anti-war direction. They called for an immediate revolution and the transfer of all power to the Soviets, which made any re-unification impossible.
In March–April 1917 the Menshevik leadership conditionally supported the newly formed liberal Russian Provisional Government. After the collapse of the first Provisional Government on May 2, 1917 over the issue of annexations, Tsereteli convinced the Mensheviks to strengthen the government for the sake of "saving the revolution" and enter a socialist-liberal coalition with Socialist Revolutionaries and liberal Constitutional Democrats, which they did on May 4, 1917 (Old Style). With Martov's return from European exile in early May, the left wing of the party challenged the party's majority led by Tsereteli at the first post-revolutionary party conference on May 9, but the Right wing prevailed 44–11. From that point on, the Mensheviks had at least one representative in the Provisional Government until it was overthrown by the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution of 1917.
With the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks clearly diverging, Russian Mensheviks and non-factional social democrats returning from European and American exile in spring-summer of 1917 were forced to take sides. Some re-joined the Mensheviks. Some, like Alexandra Kollontai, joined the Bolsheviks directly. A significant number, including Leon Trotsky and Adolf Joffe, joined the non-factional Petrograd-based anti-war group called Mezhraiontsy, which merged with the Bolsheviks in August 1917. A small but influential group of social democrats associated with Maxim Gorky's newspaper Novaya Zhizn (New Life) refused to join either party.
The Democratic Republic of Georgia was a stronghold of the Mensheviks. In parliamentary elections held on February 14, 1919 they won 81.5 percent of the votes. The Menshevik leader Noe Zhordania became Prime minister.
Prominent members of Georgian Menshevik Party were Noe Ramishvili, Evgeni Gegechkori, Akaki Chkhenkeli, Nikolay Chkheidze and Alexandre Lomtatidze. After the occupation of GDR by the Bolsheviks in 1921, many Georgian Mensheviks led by Zhordania fled to Leuville-sur-Orge, France where they set up, in a small castle, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in Exile. In 1930 Ramishvili was assassinated by a Soviet spy in Paris.
Menshevism was finally made illegal after the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921. A number of prominent Mensheviks emigrated thereafter. Martov who was suffering from ill health at this time went to Germany, where he died in 1923. However, before his death he established the paper Socialist Messenger. The Socialist Messenger would move along with the Menshevik centre from Berlin to Paris in 1933 and then in 1939 to New York City, where it was to be published up until the early 1970s.