Friday, 15 April 2016

Most sociology on the Russian Revolution assumes that its leadership was from the Russian intelligentsia and its socialist ideology was a response to the class conflicts and exclusions generated by an autocratic, industrializing Russian state (Moore 1966; Skocpol 1979; McDaniel 1988). This article challenges both the Russianness and the class basis of revolutionary Bolshevism. It takes as its point of departure the empirical finding that the Bolsheviks were largely ethnic minorities. Ethnic Russians were a substantial minority, but Jews, Latvians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, Poles, and others made up nearly two-thirds of Russia’s revolutionary elite. And, in a highly distinctive social composition, ethnicity was strongly aligned with class, suggesting that class and ethnicity were intersectional experiences of varying significance in the revolutionary radicalism of the Bolshevik elite.

 ... Only 39 Bolsheviks (42%) were ethnic Russians. This is a generous figure, since the number of non-Russians was likely in the range of 66%– 70%. This is because I have defaulted as Russian those Bolsheviks for whom I was not able to obtain sufficiently reliable data on ethnic background or on whom the sources were conflicting. A second source of skepticism is the fact that sources often reflect name Russifications; in all likelihood several were Jewish, Belarusian, German, or Ukrainian, the “invisible” nationalities. Non-Russians were overrepresented in the Bolshevik leadership as against their overall 56% representation in the empire; this figure is within statistical odds by very conservative counting, but, as noted, was likely much higher in reality.

Interestingly, however, there were significant variations across nationalities, and this requires explanation: Jews, Georgians, and Armenians were each overrepresented by a ratio of 4:1, and Latvians by 7:1, while Poles and Ukrainians were underrepresented, and Estonians and Poles and Jews from Russian Poland were absent.

 .... But when social origin is considered in terms of ethnicity, strong class-ethnicity alignments emerge. Of the 35 Bolsheviks of peasant-worker origin, 22 were ethnic Russians; the Russian Bolsheviks had proportionately greater working-class representation (nearly two-thirds were classic proletarians). By contrast, of the 39 Bolsheviks in the middling classes, only 11 were ethnic Russians, the remainder being mostly Jewish, Caucasian, or Ukrainian. Of the nine Bolsheviks of (impoverished or service) gentry/ noble origin, four were Russian and five were non-Russian, mostly Georgian. Drawn from the most privileged social strata of the empire’s national minorities, one-half of the Jewish Bolsheviks would have been among the top 3% of Jewish society in terms of occupation; three of the four Georgians were within the only 0.58% of Georgians in the free professions; five of the eight Ukrainians fell within the 0.46% of Ukrainians in the free professions, and four of the eight were from the three most elite estates in the empire.

Source: The Ethnic Roots of Class Universalism: Rethinking the “Russian” Revolutionary Elite Author(s): Liliana Riga

Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 114, No. 3 (November 2008), pp. 649-705
Published by: The University of Chicago Press


  1. Well, Russia's President Putin himself said that the first communist government was 80-85 percent jewish.

    1. Interestingly, the comments on that newspaper article are generally rather astute with only one or two truth-denying Jews, the rest realistic about Jewish involvement in Bolshevism and tying it in with the tenet of usury which the Talmud approves of, unlike the Old Testament (of which only the first five books are regarded with any importance in Judaism): the OT regards usury as a sin. For Talmudic Judaism, usury is acceptable if applied against non-Jews.