The Socialist-Revolutionary Party (the PSR, the SRs, or Esers; Партия социалистов-революционеров (ПСР), эсеры) was a Russian political party active in the early 20th century.
The program of the PSR was both democratic socialist and agrarian socialist in nature, and garnered much support amongst Russia's rural peasantry who in particular supported their program of land-socialization as opposed to the Bolshevik programme of land-nationalisation. Their policy platform differed from that of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Parties — both Bolshevik and Menshevik — in that it was not Marxist; the SRs believed that the peasantry, not the industrial proletariat, would be the revolutionary class in Russia.
The PSR grew directly out of the narodnik or Russian populist movement. With the economic spurt in Russia of the 1890s, they attempted to broaden their appeal in order to attract the rapidly growing urban workforce to their traditionally peasant orientated programme. The intention was to widen the concept of the 'people' so that it encompassed all elements in the society that were opposed to the Tsarist regime.
The PSR played an active role in the Russian Revolution of 1905, and in the Moscow and St. Petersburg Soviets. Although the party officially boycotted the first State Duma in 1906, 34 SRs were elected, while 37 were elected to the second Duma in 1907; the party boycotted both the third and fourth Dumas in 1907–1917.
Terrorism, both political and agrarian, was central to the PSR's strategy for revolution. The "SR Combat Organization", responsible for assassinating government officials, was led by Gershuni and operated separately from the party so as not to jeopardize its political actions. SRCO agents assassinated two Ministers of the Interior, Dmitry Sipyagin and V. K. von Plehve, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, the Governor of Ufa N. M. Bogdanovich, and many other high ranking officials.
In 1903, Gershuni was betrayed by his deputy, Yevno Azef, an agent of the Okhrana secret police, arrested and tried for terrorism. Azef became the new leader of the SRCO, and continued working for both the SRCO and the Okhrana, simultaneously orchestrating terrorist acts and betraying his comrades. Boris Savinkov ran many of the actual operations, notably the assassination of Admiral Dubasov.
In late 1908, a Russian narodnik and amateur spy hunter Vladimir Burtsev suggested that Azef may be a police spy. The party's Central Committee was outraged and set up a tribunal to try Burtsev for slander. When Azef was confronted with the evidence at the trial and was caught lying, he fled and left the party in disarray. The party's Central Committee, most of whose members had close ties to Azef, felt obliged to resign. Many regional organizations, already weakened in the wake of the revolution's defeat in 1907, collapsed or became inactive. Savinkov's attempt to rebuild the SRCO proved unsuccessful and it was suspended in 1911.
The Russian Revolution of February 1917, allowed the SRs to play a greater political role, with one of their members Alexander Kerensky joining the liberal Provisional Government in March 1917, and eventually becoming the head of a coalition socialist-liberal government in July 1917.
In mid-late 1917 the SRs split between those who supported the Provisional Government and those who supported the Bolsheviks and favoured a communist revolution. Those who supported the Bolsheviks became known as Left Socialist-Revolutionaries (Left SRs) and in effect split from the main party, which retained the name "SR" . The primary issues motivating the split were the war and the redistribution of land. The Left SRs, led by Maria Spiridonova, believed that Russia should withdraw immediately from World War I, and they were frustrated that the Provisional Government wanted to postpone addressing the land question until after the convocation of the Russian Constituent Assembly instead of immediately confiscating the land from the landowners and redistributing it to the peasants.
At the Second Congress of Soviets on October 25, 1917, when the Bolsheviks proclaimed the deposition of the Provisional government, the split within the SR party became final. The Left SR stayed at the Congress and were elected to the permanent VTsIK executive (although at first they refused to join the Bolshevik government) while the mainstream SR and their Menshevik allies walked out of the Congress. In late November, the Left SR joined the Bolshevik government.
Dissatisfied with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, some left-SRs assassinated the German ambassador to the Soviet Union, Count Wilhelm Mirbach. In 1918 they attempted a Third Russian Revolution, which failed, leading to the arrest, imprisonment, exile, and execution of party leaders and members. In response, some SRs turned once again to violence. A former SR, Fanya Kaplan, tried to assassinate Lenin on August 30, 1918. Many SRs fought for the Whites and Greens in the Russian Civil War alongside some Mensheviks and other banned moderate socialist elements. The largest rebellion against the Bolsheviks was led by an SR, Alexander Antonov. Some left-SRs however, became full members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.