Julius Martov in 1914

Julius Martov was born in Constanipole in 1873. The son of Jewish middle class parents, Martov became a close friend of Vladimir Lenin and in October, 1895, formed the Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Classes.

Forced to leave Russia and with others living in exile, Martov joined the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP). Over the next few years he worked closely with George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in publishing the party journal Iskra.

At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Martov and his long time friend, Vladimir Lenin. Lenin argued for a small party of professional revolutionaries with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters. Martov disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists.

Martov based his ideas on the socialist parties that existed in other European countries such as the British Labour Party. Lenin argued that the situation was different in Russia as it was illegal to form socialist political parties under the Tsar's autocratic government. At the end of the debate Martov won the vote 28-23 . Vladimir Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.

Gregory Zinoviev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Lashevich, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Mikhail Frunze, Alexei Rykov, Yakov Sverdlov, Lev Kamenev, Maxim Litvinov, Vladimir Antonov, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov joined the Bolsheviks. Whereas Martov gained the support of George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Vera Zasulich, Leon Trotsky, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan.

Seen as the leader of the Mensheviks, Martov edited the journal Iskra from November, 1903 to its closure in October, 1905. Along with George Plekhanov and Leon Trotsky, he used the journal to attack Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

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 a network of organizations such as 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.

Julius Martov

1. Was highly critical of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

2. Wanted Russia to have universal suffrage.

3. Wanted the Russian government to allow freedom of expression and an end to political censorship of newspapers and books.

4. Believed that democracy could only be achieved in Russia by the violent overthrow of Nicholas II and the autocracy.

5. Was strongly opposed to Russia going to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

6. Believed that if Russia did go to war with Austria-Hungary and Germany the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries should try to persuade the Russian soldiers to use their weapons to overthrow Nicholas II.

Primary Sources

(1) After the 2nd Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party Leon Trotsky wrote about why the split took place.

One can say of Lenin and Martov that, even before the split, even before the Congress, Lenin was 'hard' and Martov 'soft'. And they both knew it. Lenin would glance at Martov, whom he estimated highly, with a critical and somewhat suspicious look, and Martov, feeling his glance, would look down and move his thin shoulders nervously.

How did I come to be with the 'softs' at the congress? Of the Iskra editors, my closest connections were with Martov, Zasulitch and Axelrod. Their influence over me was unquestionable.

The split came unexpectedly for all the members of the congress. Lenin, the most active figure in the struggle, did not foresee it, nor had he ever desired it. Both sides were greatly upset by the course of events. After the Congress Lenin was sick for several weeks with a nervous illness.

(2) Alexander Shotman attended the 2nd Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party and after the debate joined the Bolsheviks. He explained his decision in his book, Reminiscences of an Old Bolshevik, published in 1932.

Martov resembled a poor Russian intellectual. His face was pale, he had sunken cheeks; his scant beard was untidy. His glasses barely remained on his nose. His suit hung on him as on a clothes hanger. Manuscripts and pamphlets protruded from all his pockets. He was stooped; one of his shoulders was higher than the other. He had a stutter. His outward appearance was far from attractive. But as soon as he began a fervent speech all these outer faults seemed to vanish, and what remained was his colossal knowledge, his sharp mind, and his fanatical devotion to the cause of the working class.

When Plekhanov spoke, I enjoyed the beauty of his speech, the remarkable incisiveness of his words. But when Lenin arose in opposition, I was always on Lenin's side. Why? I cannot explain it to myself. But so it was, and not only with me, but with my comrades and workers.

(3) Nikolai Sukhanov, was a leading member of the Petrograd Soviet. In his book The Russian Revolution 1917, he recalled his relationship with Julius Martov.

I had seen Martov for the first in Paris in 1903. He was then 29 years old. At that time he, with Lenin and Plekhanov, made up the editorial board of Iskra, and he gave propaganda lectures to the Russian colonies abroad, waged a bitter battle with the SRs, who were increasing in strength.

Although I was not convinced by his arguments at that time, I remember very well the enormous impression made on me by his erudition and his intellectual and dialectical power. I was, to be sure, an absolute fledgeling, but I felt Martov's speeches filled my head with new ideas. Trotsky, in spite of his showiness, did not produce a tenth of the effect and seemed no more than his echo.

In those days Martov also revealed his qualities as an orator. He has not a single external oratorical gift. A completely unimpressive, puny little body, standing if possible half-turned away from the audience, with stiff monotonous gestures; indistinct diction, a weak and muffled voice; his speech in general far from smooth, with clipped words and full of pauses; finally, an abstractness in exposition exhausting to a mass audience.

But all this doesn't prevent him from being a remarkable orator. for a man's qualities should be judged not by what he does but by what he may do, and Martov the orator is, of course, capable of making you forget all his oratorical faults. At some moments he rises to an extraordinary, breath-taking height. These are either critical moments, or occasions of special excitement, among a lively, heckling crowd actively "participating in the debate". When Martov's speech turns into a dazzling firework display of images, epithets, and similes; his blows acquire enormous power, his sarcasm's extraordinary sharpness, his improvisations the quality of a magnificently staged artistic production.