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Martov, L.

(Iulii Osipovich Tsederbaum; 1873–1923), leader and ideologue of the Menshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP). While attending university in Saint Petersburg (1891–1892), Martov became a “propagandist,” conducting political educational work among small circles of workers. Arrested and sent to Vilna (1893–1895), he joined Jewish Social Democrats in developing and practicing the strategy of “agitation,” seeking to use the workers’ own grievances to foment strikes and draw their attention to capitalist exploitation and tsarist repression. Next, he joined Vladimir Lenin and Aleksandr Potresov in founding the Union for the Emancipation of Labor and, after another arrest and three years in Siberian exile, in publishing the journal Iskra (1900), which advocated the creation of a unified, politically disciplined social democratic party. Disagreements among Iskra’s editors over the organization of the party and its role in revolution led to an open confrontation between Lenin and Martov at the Second Congress of the RSDWP (July 1903), which ushered in the historic split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

For more than a decade, Martov was the principal ideologue of the Menshevik wing of Russian Social Democracy, although he shared the leadership with others, most notably Pavel Aksel’rod and Aleksandr Potresov. When a broadly based attack on tsarism began in 1905, he authored the Menshevik doctrine rejecting Social Democratic participation in a bourgeois government. In the fall of that year, during the heady days of apparent constitutional concessions, he gave voice to the demand of the Saint Petersburg Soviet of Workers Deputies to expand the revolution to the social sphere. After 1907, Martov continued to lead the fight against Lenin, while charting a Menshevik strategy for using the limited political arena to prepare the workers for a future revolution without succumbing to either workers’ extremism or bourgeois cooptation of social democracy.

During World War I, living in Paris, Martov aligned himself with the internationalist wing of the European socialist movement and denounced the war as imperialist. His implacable internationalism was rejected by many of the Mensheviks in Russia, and when he returned to Petrograd in May 1917 he found himself in the minority on that issue and in opposition to his party’s decision to join a coalition government with the liberal bourgeois parties. Only after the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 did the Mensheviks turn back to him for leadership. The line he fashioned—opposing the Bolsheviks but refusing to take arms against the Soviet government—remained the official Menshevik policy until his death in Berlin in April 1923.

Martov counted several outstanding Russian maskilim among his relatives. From the 1850s through the 1880s, his grandfather, Aleksander Zederbaum, established and edited several Jewish newspapers and journals in Odessa and Saint Petersburg, including Ha-Melits, Dos Yudishes folks-blat, Razsvet, and Vestnik russkikh evreev. His father, Osip Aleksandrovich, was a merchant who represented a Russian company in Constantinople, where he married Martov’s mother, born in Vienna of Sephardic parents. Constantinople was the birthplace of their first three children, Iulii among them. Russian gradually replaced French as the household language when the family moved to Odessa in 1878 and then to Saint Petersburg in 1881. The last move was preceded by one of Martov’s first “Jewish” experiences, the Odessa pogrom; it was followed by many encounters with everyday antisemitism at school, and an acute awareness of Jewish disabilities under the reign of Alexander III. In every other way, Martov and his seven siblings grew up with hardly any knowledge of Jewish religion and culture, identifying instead with the radical intelligentsia of the multiethnic Russian empire. Five of the eight became active Social Democrats.

In his Zapiski sotsial-demokrata (Memoirs of a Social Democrat; 1922), Martov describes how his experiences as a Jew helped shape his revolutionary instincts and internationalism. During his Vilna days he seemed to draw closer to his Jewish roots, formulating the need for a separate Jewish workers’ organization to conduct agitation in Yiddish. But while his comrades of those days went on to form the Bund, Martov had become convinced of the overriding importance of a unified all-Russian Social Democratic party, and it was he who led the opposition to the Bund’s demand for autonomy at the Second Congress of RSDWP. Ironically, the Bund’s decision to leave the meeting in protest allowed Lenin and the future Bolsheviks to gain a majority at the congress. But in the rivalry that ensued, the Bund stood closer to the Mensheviks, and when the RSDWP formally split in 1912 the Bund joined the Menshevik splinter.

Suggested Reading

Israel Getzler, Martov: A Political Biography of a Russian Social Democrat (Cambridge and Melbourne, 1967); Leopold H. Haimson with Ziva Galili and Richard Wortman, The Making of Three Russian Revolutionaries: Voices from the Menshevik Past (Cambridge and Paris, 1987); L. (Iuli) Martov, Zapiski sotsial-demokrata (Moscow, 2004).