The Russian populist movement, inspired by the writings of Alexander Herzen, emerged in the years immediately following the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. The populists believed that the peasant commune was the germ of the future socialist society and that Russia should follow its own path, avoiding the evils of capitalism. In 1876 populists formed Russia’s first revolutionary party, Zemlia I Volia (Land and Liberty), which called for all land to the peasants, self-determination for all parts of the Russian empire, self-government for the communes, and the overthrow of the Tsar. Alexander I was assassinated in 1881, but the murder led to reaction and to the disintegration of the populist revolutionary movement. In 1901 a group of populists formed the Socialist Revolutionaries with a program of distributing all land to the peasants.

In 1883 Georgii Plekhanov, a former populist living in exile in Geneva, formed the first Russian theoretical Marxist group. The Marxists believed in social change as the ultimate aim, but it would only be achieved by the working out of social law, with the evolution of capitalism leading Russia through bourgeois democracy to social revolution. After several years of largely theoretical discussion, the All-Russian Social Democratic Party held its first congress at Minsk in 1898. Its platform was broadly democratic, but it held that the proletariat was the only ‘liberator class’. The Party split into two factions in 1903, partly on the question of an immediate socialist revolution, partly on the question of organisation. The Bolsheviks (majority), led by Vladimir Lenin, demanded that the party be limited to a small body of professional revolutionaries prepared for insurrection and the seizure of power. The Mensheviks (minority) favoured a broader party, closely linked to trade unions and other workers’ organisations, and modelled on the German Social Democratic Party.

After the 1905 Russian revolution, there was a steep decline in party membership, but attempts at reunification failed. Most of the Social Democratic leaders– Lenin, Georgii Zinoviev, Iulii Martov, Fedor Dan, Pavel Axelrod, Leon Trotsky and Plekhanov – lived in exile from 1907 onwards and struggled to maintain links with members in Russia. Obsessed with theory, tactics and the internal organisation of the party, they spent most of their time writing letters, pamphlets, reports and a plethora of newspapers. World War I created new divisions and enmities which often cut across political alignments.

Following the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917, the socialist leaders returned to Russia. The Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks dominated the soviets and held several portfolios in the Provisional Government, with Alexander Kerensky serving as Premier from July to November 1917. The Bolsheviks were determined to destroy the government and they carried out a coup d’etat in November 1917. The Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks continued to have strong representation in the soviets and in the elections for the Constituent Assembly in 1918 they secured a majority of the seats. However, the Bolsheviks dispersed the Assembly and attacked the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries as counter-revolutionaries. Show trials began to be held in 1920 and Menshevik leaders such as Martov and Dan again went into exile. The long hegemony of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had begun. 


The microfilm of Menshevik publications was purchased by the Library from the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University in 1967. The microfilm of the Houghton Library collection of Russian revolutionary literature was bought from Research Publications of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1973.

The collection of Russian socialist pamphlets was acquired by the Library from the New York bookseller, H.P. Kraus, in 1958. The Zwalf Collection was purchased in 1961 from the London bookseller Ben Weinreb.



The Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California holds one of the greatest collections relating to Russia and the Soviet Union. It began collecting material as early as 1919 and its collecting culminated with the acquisition of the Boris Nicolaevsky Collection in 1963. The Menshevik Collection which is held on microfilm contains 241 newspapers and periodicals, published between 1898 and 1922, and a small number of books and pamphlets. The authors include V. Akimov, P.A. Krasikov, Iulii Martov and L. Martov.

The collection of Russian revolutionary literature at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, consists of a very large number of Russian books and pamphlets (1858-1916), as well as broadsides (1898-1918), periodicals (1862-1916) and Tsarist publications (1826-1916). The authors include Pavel Akselrod, Petr Alisov, Mikhail Bakunin, Viktor Chernov, Nikolai Chernyshevskii, Fedor Dan, Mikhail Dragomanov, Osip Ermanskii, Aleksandr Herzen, Vladimir Korolenko, Petr Kropotkin, Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, Aleksandr Malinovskii, Iulii Martov, Georgii Plekhanov, Nikolai Rubakin, Leonid Shishko, Lev Tikhomirov, Lev Trotskii and Grigorii Zinoviev. There are also Russian translations of writings of German and French socialists.


The collection purchased from Kraus in 1958 consists of 318 Russian pamphlets published between 1870 and 1951, the bulk of them appearing between 1900 and 1925. Many of them were written by Russian exiles and were published in Geneva, London, Paris, Berlin and other cities in the West. The collection reflects the different strands of Russian socialism: Bolshevik, Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary. The authors include Paul Axelrod, Nikolai Bukharin, Viktor Chernov, Fedor Dan, Grigorii Gershuni, Petr Kropotkin, Iulli Martov, Georgii Plekhanov, Karl Radek, Boris Savinkov, Petr Struve, Leon Trotsky, Klara Zetkin and Grigorii Zinoviev. There are also a number of official publications of the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Revolutionary Party.

In addition, the collection contains Russian translations of writings of German, French and Belgian socialists such as August Bebel, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Paul Lafargue and Emil Vandervelde.

The collection of pamphlets assembled by the Dutch socialist Max Zwalf includes about 100 Russian pamphlets published between 1909 and 1946. The authors include Mikhail Artsybashev, Nikolai Bukharin, Dimitri Furmanov, Anatoli Kamenskii, Mikhai Karpov, Petr Kropotkin, Vladimir Lenin, Nikolai Mikhalov and Leon Trostsky. Many of the French, German and English pamphlets in the collection also deal with Russian communism and the Soviet Union.

In 1975 Kraus Reprint reproduced about 100 pamphlets in a series entitled The Russian Revolution: from the October Revolution to the Moscow trials, 1917-1936. They include works by leading Bolsheviks such as Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Georgi Chicherin, Alexandra Kollontai, V.M. Molotov, Karl Radek and Leon Trotsky, as well as critics of the Communist regime such as Alexander Kerensky and Iulli Martov.

The Library holds the collected works of three of the leading Russian socialists:

Lenin, Vladimir Ilich, Collected works, 45 vols, 1960-72

Lenin, Vladimir Ilich, Polnoe sobranis sochinenii, 55 vols, 1967-70

Plekhanov, Georgii, Sochineniia, 24 vols, 1923-27

Trotsky, Leon, Sochineniia, 21 vols, 1925-27 [Library holds 12 volumes]

Trotsky, Leon, Writings of Leon Trotsky, 12 vols, 1970-79


The Menshevik Collection is held in the Newspaper and Microform Collection at mfm 470. There are 72 reels. The items have not been catalogued, but they are listed in a publication issued by the Hoover Institution. The Houghton Library Collection is also held in the Newspaper and Microform Collection at mfm 1667. There are 47 reels. The items have not been catalogued, but the collection is described in a detailed guide compiled by Kenneth E. Carpenter and published by the Houghton Library.

The collection of Russian pamphlets acquired from H.P. Kraus are housed in 29 boxes and held at the Hume Annexe at Sf 335 RUS. They do not have entries in the on-line catalogue, but a 45 page catalogue was published by the Library in 1963 and is held at 016.335 AUS. Similarly, the Zwalf Collection is housed in 55 boxes and held at the Hume Annexe at 335 ZWA. A printed catalogue is held at Nq 016.335 AUS. The pamphlets reproduced by Kraus Reprint are held at S41 940.3 SEE (10 vols).


Bourguina, Anna and Jakobson, Michael, compilers. Guide to the Boris I. Nicolaevsky Collection in the Hoover Institution archives, Stanford, Hoover Institution, 1989

[Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace] Menshevik collection of newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets and books related to the Menshevik movement, n.d.

Houghton Library, Russian revolutionary literature collection: a descriptive guide and key to the collection, compiled by Kenneth E. Carpenter, New Haven, Conn., Research Publications, 1976

Keep, J.H.L., The rise of social democracy in Russia, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963

Russian socialist pamphlet collection: catalogue of a collection mainly of pamphlets on socialism and related subjects, Canberra, National Library of Australia, 1963

Schapiro, Leonard, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960

Venturi, F., Roots of revolution: a history of populist and socialist movements in nineteenth century Russia, translated by F. Haskell, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)