Russian Revolution glossary A-L


This Russian Revolution glossary contains definitions of events, terms and concepts relevant to Russia under tsarism, the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks. Words from A to L. Non-English words are italicised. These definitions have been written by Alpha History authors.


agent provocateur
A secret agent hired to incite or provoke illegal actions among revolutionary or political groups, usually with the aim of identifying and arresting individual suspects.

agrarian
Relating to agriculture, crops, methods of farming or those workers employed on the land.

anarchism
A left-wing political ideology supporting the removal or destruction of government through random acts of violence. During the Russian Civil War most anarchist groups came to oppose the Bolshevik regime. The black flag (symbol) and Black Guards (a paramilitary brigade) were both associated with the anarchist movement.

April Theses
A document published by Lenin shortly after his return to Russia from exile in 1917. It insisted that no support be given to the Provisional Government, calling for an immediate end to Russia’s involvement in World War I and for socialist revolution as soon as possible.

autocracy
A system of government where all political power and sovereignty is vested in a single ruler called an autocrat (usually a king, tsar or emperor).

batrak
A landless peasant or a peasant labourer who works for a wage; the lowest class of peasant in tsarist Russia.

bedniak
A peasant possessed of some land but still desperately poor; the second-lowest class of peasant in tsarist Russia.

Black Army (or Makhnovshchina)
An anarchist-nationalist army emanating from the Ukraine. The Black Army aligned with the Bolsheviks initially but later fought against them during the Civil War.

Black Guards
An anarchist paramilitary brigade created in 1917. The Black Guards opposed the centralised Soviet state and fought for land redistribution and small local communes.

Black Hundreds
Reactionary and conservative groups that existed in Russia prior to World War I. The Black Hundreds were known for their support for tsarism and anti-Semitism.

Bolsheviks (Russian, ‘majority’)
The radical Marxist revolutionary group formed in 1903, following a split in the Russian Social Democratic Party (SDs). The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, wanted socialist revolution and the creation of a ‘workers’ dictatorship’ as early as practicable.

bourgeois (pronounced bore-jwah)

bourgeoisie (pronounced bore-jwah-zee)
French term used to describe the propertied, capital-owning middle-class. In Marxism, the bourgeoisie control the means of production.

bureaucracy
Departments or agencies employed to enact and implement the policies of the government.

capital
Material such as land, resources, buildings, machinery, factories and infrastructure, which is used to produce commodities and to generate profit. In Marxism, capital is also known as ‘the means of production’.

capitalism
An economic system where most or all capital is privately-owned.

capitalist
Describes either an element of capitalism, an individual who supports capitalism or (in Marxism) an individual who owns capital and uses it to generate profit.

centralisation
The process of political power and/or decision-making being acquired by fewer people; the opposite of democratisation.

CHEKA (or Vecheka)
(Russian abbreviation, ‘extraordinary commission’). Soviet secret police formed in late 1917 to identify, investigate and deal with potential enemies of the state. CHEKA agents operated outside any legal framework and used a wide variety of methods, many intimidatory or brutal, to extract information and/or deal with dissidents.

class
A section, division or layer of society, usually determined by wealth and economic factors.

class struggle
A Marxist concept describing the ongoing tension between different economic classes, each of whom seek to improve their wealth and conditions at the expense of other classes.

class war
A period following a socialist revolution, where individuals, structures and concepts of the old capitalist order would be destroyed.

class consciousness
The awareness of a class or group that they are being exploited; an important requisite for revolution.

Comintern
The Communist International, an organisation established in Moscow in 1919 to advance the cause of international revolution.

commissar
A Russian communist term that can refer to either a high-ranking minister in the Soviet government, or an individual who is assigned to monitor or oversee a group or agency on behalf of the Communist Party.

commune
A social unit in tsarist Russia, usually comprising a village of 200-500 workers; a small
collective of workers responsible for sharing resources and labour.

communism
A political ideology that strives to create a society with no classes or structures of government.

Constituent Assembly
A representative political body, elected by the Russian people in December 1917. The Constituent Assembly met for one day in January 1918 before being dissolved by Bolshevik troops.

counter-revolution
A period or set of actions where individuals or groups attempt to reverse or halt changes that have been introduced by a revolution.

czar (see tsar)


democratic centralism
The framework and procedure for decision-making within the Bolshevik Party. Its central tenet was that major decisions would be made democratically by party leaders – but once made they were to be followed rigidly by all in the party, including those who did not support them.

dictatorship of the proletariat
A term describing the political system anticipated after a socialist revolution. Representatives of the proletariat (working classes) would assume control of the government, eradicate democracy and make decisions to benefit the workers.

divine right
Any system of government, usually a monarchy or autocracy, where the ruler claims to draw his/her authority from God, rather than the will of the people.

Duma (or State Duma)
(Russian, ‘thinkers’). The national parliament of Russia between 1906 and 1917. The Duma was formed by Tsar Nicholas II in the wake of the 1905 Revolution, however it exerted little political influence during its life.

emancipation
The act of granting freedom to individuals or a class previously enslaved or held in bondage. Russia’s serfs (bonded peasants) were emancipated by order of Alexander II in 1861.

Esers (see SRs)

factionalism
The presence of different opinions or groups within a larger organisation.

feudalism
A socio-political system with agricultural economic production and a rigid social hierarchy.

Green Armies
Peasant-based militias that formed during the Civil War. The Green Armies had little or no political basis but instead formed to resist interference or oppression by the Bolsheviks and/or the White armies.

guberniya
An administrative division in tsarist Russia, the broad equivalent of states. Each guberniya was overseen by a gubernator (governor) on behalf of the tsar.

haemophilia (or hemophilia)
A genetic blood disease carried by females but with symptoms that only affect males. It hinders blood clotting, leaving sufferers at risk of bleeding to death from even minor cuts or bruises. European royal families were especially prone to haemophilia, probably because of their inbreeding.

imperialism
A political system where one powerful nation conquers smaller nations, which become colonies; the imperial nation then asserts political control of the colony and/or exploits its labour and resources for profit.

industrialisation
The process by which a nation or state moves from an agricultural economy to one concerned with manufacturing and industrial production.

internationalism (or international revolution)
The idea that Marxism could not be confined to one country, and that socialist revolution in one nation would lead to growing dissatisfaction and revolutions in others.

Ipatiev House
A private residence in Ekaterinberg where the tsar and his family were imprisoned between April 1918 and their execution in July 1918.

Iskra
(Russian, ‘spark’). Official newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Party (SDs), formed in 1900. After the SDs split in 1903 it was controlled by the Mensheviks.

Ispolkom
The executive committee which led the Petrograd Soviet during the revolution.

July Days
Refers to a spontaneous public uprising against the Provisional Government in early July 1917. The uprising was dispersed by government troops.

Kadets
An abbreviated name for the Constitutional Democratic Party, a revolutionary party founded in 1905 and led by Pavel Milyukov. Membership of the Kadets was dominated middle-class professionals and some zemstvo delegates. Their aim was to replace tsarism with liberal-democratic republic or constitutional monarchy.

kulak
A peasant who is wealthier than other peasants. A kulak is usually distinguished by his ownership of large tracts of land; his ability to produce and sell surplus produce for profit; or his employment of other peasants as labourers.

Left SRs (or Left Esers)
The radical socialist faction of the SRs, which broke away from the main party and aligned with the Bolsheviks during 1917. The Left SRs launched an attempt to capture Moscow in July 1918 but were defeated by the Bolsheviks and suppressed during the Red Terror.

left-wing
An ideological position concerned with minimising or eliminating class differences and achieving economic equality, such as socialism, communism or Marxism


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This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, John Rae and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “Russian Revolution glossary A-L” at Alpha History, http://alphahistory.com/russianrevolution/russian-revolution-glossary-a-l/, 2014, accessed [date of last access].