At the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party in London in 1903, there was a dispute between Lenin and Julius Martov, two of SDLP's leaders. 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. 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, Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, Kliment Voroshilov, Vatslav Vorovsky, Gregory Ordzhonikidze and Alexander Bogdanov joined the Bolsheviks. Whereas George Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod, Leon Trotsky, Lev Deich, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Vera Zasulich, Irakli Tsereteli, Moisei Uritsky, Noi Zhordania and Fedor Dan supported the Mensheviks.
Alexander Shotman later explained why he joined the Bolsheviks: "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."
The SDLP journal, Iskra remained under the control of the Mensheviks so Lenin, with the help of Anatoli Lunacharsky, Alexander Bogdanov, Lev Kamenev, Vatslav Vorovsky and Gregory Zinoviev, established a Bolshevik newspaper, Vperyod (Forward).
In 1907 Lenin abandoned hope for an imminent armed uprising and called on Bolsheviks in Russia to participate in the elections for the Third Duma. Lenin also spent a great deal of time finding ways of raising money for the party. He secured large donations from Maxim Gorky and Sava Morozov, the Moscow millionaire.
This was not the party's main source of income. The armed hold-ups of Bolshevik gangs provided much more. One raid on the Tiflis Post Office raised 250,000 roubles. The gang used bombs during the robbery and several people were killed. When George Plekhanov, one of the leaders of the Mensheviks, heard that the Bolsheviks were behind the robbery he declared: "The whole affair is so outrageous that it is really high time for us to break off all relations with the Bolsheviks."
Lenin, and his two loyal assistants, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, used this money to print revolutionary literature and newspapers such as Zvezda. Some money was used to gain control some of the unions that were emerging in Russia's main industrial cities. One of Lenin's agents, Roman Malinovsky, was elected as general secretary of the St Petersburg Metalworkers' Union.
In 1911 the Bolseviks made plans to capture control of the Social Democratic Labour Party at the conference to be held in Prague in January, 1912. This move was unsuccessful and the party split and after that date the Bolsheviks maintained a completely separate existence from the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks now took the name the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party.
At the conference Lenin suggested that Roman Malinovsky should join the Bolshevik Central Committee. Some party members opposed this move, claiming that there were rumours that Malinovsky was an Okhrana agent. Lenin pointed out that these stories had come from Julius Martov and Fedor Dan, two Menshevik leaders. He refused to believe the charges and advocated that Malinovsky should also be a Bolshevik candidate for the Duma. After being elected in October, 1912, Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies.
On the outbreak of the First World War Lenin was living in Galicia in Austria. He was arrested in August, 1914 as a Russian spy, but after a brief imprisonment he was allowed to move to Switzerland. At a meeting of Bolsheviks at Berne he outlined his views on the war. He branded the conflict as imperialist and those socialists who supported the war were betraying the proletariat.
Lenin was appalled by the decision of most socialists in Europe to support the war effort. He now devoted his energies to campaign to turn the "imperialist war into a civil war". This included the publication of his book, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Along with his close collaborators, Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, Lenin arranged for the distribution of propaganda that urged Allied troops to turn their rifles against their officers and start a socialist revolution.
On 26th February, 1917, Nicholas II ordered the Duma to close down. Members refused and they continued to meet and discuss what they should do. Michael Rodzianko, President of the Duma, sent a telegram to the Tsar suggesting that he appoint a new government led by someone who had the confidence of the people. When the Tsar did not reply, the Duma nominated a Provisional Government headed by Prince George Lvov.
The High Command of the Russian Army now feared a violent revolution and on 28th February suggested that Nicholas II should abdicate in favour of a more popular member of the royal family. Attempts were now made to persuade Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to accept the throne. He refused and on the 1st March, 1917, the Tsar abdicated leaving the Provisional Government in control of the country.
Lenin and other Bolsheviks living in exile were now desperate to return to Russia to help shape the future of the country. The German Foreign Ministry, who hoped that Lenin's presence in Russia would help bring the war on the Eastern Front to an end, provided a special train for Lenin and 27 other Bolsheviks to travel to Petrograd. When Lenin returned to Russia on 3rd April, 1917, he announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked those Bolsheviks who had supported the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories. Some Mensheviks such as Leon Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai, agreed with this view and now joined the Bolsheviks.
Lenin accused those Bolsheviks who were still supporting the Provisional Government of betraying socialism and suggested that they should leave the party. Some took Lenin's advice, arguing that any attempt at revolution at this stage was bound to fail and would lead to another repressive, authoritarian Russian government.
Joseph Stalin was in a difficult position. As one of the editors of Pravda, he was aware that he was being held partly responsible for what Lenin had described as "betraying socialism". Stalin had two main options open to him: he could oppose Lenin and challenge him for the leadership of the party, or he could change his mind about supporting the Provisional Government and remain loyal to Lenin. After ten days of silence, Stalin made his move. In the newspaper he wrote an article dismissing the idea of working with the Provisional Government. He condemned Alexander Kerensky and Victor Chernov as counter-revolutionaries, and urged the peasants to takeover the land for themselves.
On 8th July, 1917, Alexander Kerensky became the new leader of the Provisional Government. In the Duma he had been leader of the moderate socialists and had been seen as the champion of the working-class. However, Kerensky, like his predecessor, George Lvov, was unwilling to end the war. In fact, soon after taking office, he announced a new summer offensive.
Lenin welcomed these developments and it became clear to Alexander Kerensky that the Bolshevik posed a real threat to his government. On 19th July, Kerensky gave orders for the arrest of Lenin as well as Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, and Alexandra Kollontai. The Bolshevik headquarters at the Kshesinsky Palace, was also occupied by government troops.
A Bolshevik spy in the Ministry of Justice discovered what was going to happen and Lenin was able to escape to nearby Finland where he was hidden by a secret socialist, the Helsinki chief of police. While in Finland he completed State and Revolution. In the book Lenin explained his ideas of the kind socialist government he would like to see in Russia.
After the failure of the July Offensive on the Eastern Front, the prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, replaced General Alexei Brusilov with General Lavr Kornilov, as Supreme Commander of the Russian Army. The two men soon clashed about military policy. Kornilov wanted Kerensky to restore the death-penalty for soldiers and to militarize the factories.
Lavr Kornilov responded by sending troops under the leadership of General Krymov to take control of Petrograd. Alexander Kerensky was now in danger and was forced to ask the Soviets and the Red Guards to protect Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, who controlled these organizations, agreed to this request, but Lenin made clear they would be fighting against Kornilov rather than for Kerensky.
Within a few days Bolsheviks had enlisted 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd. While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov's troops decided not to attack Petrograd. General Krymov committed suicide and Kornilov was arrested and taken into custody.
According to Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has pointed out: "Up to the February Revolution the party had been scarcely more than a sect, with no more than twenty or thirty thousand members in the whole country. When a count was taken by the party congress held in August the claimed membership came to nearly 250,000. Twenty per cent of the members were strategically concentrated in Petrograd, and another 20 per cent in Moscow. The party's appeal in all the new forms of electoral democracy - the soviets, the factory committees, the soldiers' councils - rose even faster."
Lenin now returned to Petrograd but remained in hiding. On 25th September, Kerensky attempted to recover his left-wing support by forming a new coalition that included more Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. However, with the Bolsheviks controlling the Soviets and now able to call on 25,000 armed militia, Kerensky's authority had been fatally undermined.
The Bolsheviks set up their headquarters in the Smolny Institute. The former girls' convent school also housed the Petrograd Soviet. Under pressure from the nobility and industrialists, Alexander Kerensky was persuaded to take decisive action. On 22nd October he ordered the arrest of the Military Revolutionary Committee. The next day he closed down the Bolshevik newspapers and cut off the telephones to the Smolny Institute.
Leon Trotsky now urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Lenin agreed and on the evening of 24th October, 1917, orders were given for the Bolsheviks began to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Kerensky had managed to escape from the city.
The Winter Palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. the Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace and arrested the Cabinet ministers.
On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Felix Dzerzhinsky (Internal Affairs), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice) and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War).
At the Seventh Party Congress held in March, 1918, Lenin proposed that the party should change its name from the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party to the Communist Party. He argued that the new name would indicate the am of the Bolsheviks would be to achieve Communism as outlined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in their book, The Communist Manifesto.