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Bolshevik (derived from Russian word for "majority") is the name given to the faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) led by Vladimir Lenin, formed at the Second Party Congress in 1903. The other faction was known as the Mensheviks, derived from "minority". Shortly after the Bolsheviks seized power during the Russian Revolution of 1917, they changed their name to the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and then at the 1936 Party Congress to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The word "Bolshevik" is sometimes used as a synonym of Communist. It was often used by right-wingers outside the Soviet Union as a term of abuse for left-wingers, not all of whom were necessarily Communists. The Bolshevik political platform has often been referred to as Bolshevism.

At the Second Congress of the RSDLP, held in Belgium in 1903, Lenin was able to persuade the majority of the party elite to support him as leader of the party. Many commentators point out the difficulties presented to the Menshevik faction by getting lumbered with this name. In fact, the Mensheviks were actually the numerically larger faction among rank-and-file party members, but the majority of the party leadership supported Lenin; hence, Lenin's faction took the name "Bolshevik".

The Bolsheviks were the most extreme faction. Bolsheviks believed in limiting the Party membership to professional full-time revolutionaries, organized in a strongly centralised hierarchy which sought to achieve power; refused to co-operate with non-extremist parties or democratic governments (which they labelled "bourgeois") or even eventually other socialist organizations. Although the Bolsheviks were not completely monolithic, they were characterized by a rigid adherence to the leadership of Lenin. The Mensheviks favored open party membership and espoused cooperation with the other socialist and some non-socialist groups in Russia.

Leon Trotsky was initially a Menshevik, but in one of the key defections from that wing of the party, he lined up behind Lenin and became a Bolshevik after the First Russian Revolution.

During the First World War, the Bolsheviks initially took an anti-nationalist stance that emphasized solidarity between the workers of Russia and Germany, and the world - they considered that the Russian revolution was just the start of a world revolution. In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on March 3, 1918, independence was granted to a number of ethnically non-Russian provinces which were placed under the protection of Germany and Austria-Hungary, although Russian military weakness undoubtedly played a major part in convincing the Bolsheviks to give up these territories.

After the revolution the Bolsheviks banned Mensheviks and all other political organizations, establishing a "dictatorship of the proletariat". They also reversed some of the territorial losses suffered at Brest-Litovsk, re-annexing Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1921.

The Bolsheviks gained a reputation for dealing harshly with those they regarded as "enemies of the state", although it has to be said that their counter-revolutionary opponents also used violent methods against suspected Bolsheviks and partisans. The execution of the ex-Tsar Nicholas II and his family on July 16, 1918 caused a particularly strong reaction internationally, as it was widely seen as a dangerous precedent and as an unjustified murder in its own right.

In combating their enemies, the Bolsheviks re-used many of the aspects of the repressive Tsarist security apparatus. In December 1917, the Bolshevik government established a secret police force, the Cheka, which took over the role of the former Tsarist Okhranka. In 1918, the Bolsheviks began to send political opponents to forced labor camps (typically in Siberia) which had originally been been established in the 19th century to deal with political dissidents and common criminals without executing them. These were later expanded into the infamous Gulag system.

Jews and Bolshevism

Many members of the Bolshevik party were Jewish, especially in the leadership of the party. The idea of overthrowing the Tsarist regime was attractive to many members of the Jewish intelligentsia because of the oppression of non-Russian nations within the Russian Empire. For much the same reason, many other non-Russians, notably Latvians or Poles, were over-represented in the party leadership. This was abused by the Tsarist secret police, the Okhranka, which used anti-Semitism and xenophobia as a weapon against the party.

The Jewish origins of leading Bolsheviks and their support for a policy of "World Revolution" - most notably in the case of Trotsky - led many enemies of Bolshevism to draw a picture of Communism as a political idea pursued to benefit Jewish interests. In Germany, the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler used this theory to paint a picture of a supposed "Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy". Even today, many anti-Semites continue to promote the idea of a link between Judaism and Communism. However, the concept that an entire ethnic group can be held responsible for the actions of a few is very widely rejected.

Most of the Jewish "Old Bolsheviks" (along with their gentile counterparts) were purged by Stalin during the 1930s.

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