Russian Revolution glossary M-Z

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

A theory of history and political ideology developed in the 1800s by Karl Marx.

Milrevcom (or MRC)
The Military Revolutionary Committee, formed in October 1917 at Trotsky’s request to plan paramilitary responses to the Provisional Government.

mir (or obshchina)
Russian word for ‘commune’, the village community and its collective ability to produce and make decisions.

Narodnaya Volya
(Russian, ‘people’s will’). A late 19th century democratic-socialist part and left-wing terrorist group, responsible for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.

Mid-19th century liberal reformers, mainly from the middle classes and universities. The Narodniks ventured into rural areas to politically enlighten peasants and incite revolution, but found little interest in either.

A name given to the capitalist class of businessmen, merchants and traders that emerged during the New Economic Policy (NEP). The majority of Nepmen were small wholesalers or retailers, buying goods or resources and then selling it for a profit.

An area of administration in imperial Russia, the equivalent of a province or county.

obshchina (see mir)

 (Russian, ‘guards’). The tsarist secret police force, created in 1881 by restructuring the Third Section. The Okhrana was primarily concerned with state security and the personal safety of the tsar, mainly by identifying and bringing to justice dangerous revolutionary, anarchist or terrorist groups.

A farmer or farming labourer, usually with little or no wealth (see also batrak, bedniak, kulak).

People’s Will (see Narodnaya Volya)

(Russian-English, ‘political bureau’) The executive committee of the Bolshevik and later Communist Party. The first Politburo, formed in October 1917, had seven members but this number was expanded after the Bolshevik revolution.

The Russian term for compulsory grain requisitioning under war communism (1918-21).

(Russian, ‘truth’). A Russian socialist newspaper formed in 1903. It came under Bolshevik control in 1912 and was later the official publication of the Communist Party.

professional revolutionary
A concept at the core of Leninist ideology, which argues that socialist revolutionaries must work full-time and be entirely committed to the cause of revolution.

A term used to describe all working classes, particularly those in capitalist systems. In Marxist contexts, the proletariat usually refers to industrial or factory workers.

Provisional Committee
The sub-committee of the fourth State Duma, formed in March 1917 to respond to the abdication of Nicholas II.

Provisional Government
The body tasked with governing Russia after the collapse of tsarism in March 1917. The Provisional Government’s main mission was to organise elections for a more permanent Constituent Assembly, while ruling Russia in the interim.

Red Army
The official Soviet military force, formed in 1918 from the Red Guards, elements of the tsarist Imperial Army and conscripts. The Red Army defended the Soviet state from the Whites during the Civil War.

Red Guards
Militia units formed by the Bolsheviks in April 1917, ostensibly to guard against counter-revolutionary aggression. Most Red Guards were factory workers; a smaller number were current or former soldiers or sailors.

Red Terror
A two-year period during the Russian Civil War, when the Bolsheviks used military force, secret police units, violence and intimidation to assert control and suppress resistance. The main targets during this period were White and foreign agents and sympathisers, kulaks and Left SRs.

revolutionary defencism
A position adopted by some Russian socialists with regard to World War I. They argued that Russia should remain in the war but only to defend the revolution from possible collapse or defeat.

Describes a person, group or point of view which is conservative and opposes change or reform.

A policy employed throughout the Russian Empire by Alexander III, commencing in the early 1880s. Russification imposed the Russian language, religion and culture on non-Russian regions of the empire, such as Poland, Finland and Asiatic Russia.

A Russian Orthodox elder or spiritual advisor.

A peasant who is bound to the land, and so in legal terms is owned by the landowner. Russian peasants were serfs until 1861, when they were emancipated by Alexander II.

Smolny Institute (or ‘the Smolny’)
A former girls’ school that was used as a headquarters for the Bolshevik party in 1917. Much of the preparations for the October Revolution were organised in the Smolny.

In Marxism, the political and economic system installed after the overthrow of capitalism. Socialism is a transitional phase between capitalism and communism.

A council of working class delegates, each selected to represent their work unit (for example, a factory, mine or military unit). The Petrograd Soviet, formed in March 1917, was the largest and most significant of the 3,000 or so soviets across Russia.

Soviet Order Number One
A resolution passed by the Petrograd Soviet in March 1917, requiring all orders from the Provisional Government to be endorsed by the Soviet’s own executive committee. This order challenged and undermined the authority of the Provisional Government.

(Russian abbreviation, ‘Soviet People’s Commissioners’). The executive committee or cabinet of the Soviet government. The Sovnarkom contained between 15 and 22 members.

Stolypin’s necktie
A colloquial term for the hangman’s noose, the use of which was expanded considerably during the prime ministership of Petr Stolypin (1906-1911).

SRs (or Esers)
The Socialist-Revolutionaries, a left-wing political party formed in 1902. Its main platforms were improved rights and conditions for peasants and workers; and the equitable redistribution of land. The SRs enjoyed considerable support from Russia’s peasantry.

In Marxism, the state refers to the groups and instruments by which a government imposes power or control, such as ministers, departments, public servants, regulations and police.

A form of socialism where workers’ unions or collectives manage factories or production units, making decisions democratically and in their own interests.

Tauride Palace
A large palace in St Petersburg, once the summer residence of Catherine the Great. The palace had a large meeting hall that was used by the State Duma (1906-1917), the Provisional Government (1917) and the Petrograd Soviet (1917).

A crowded accommodation such as a dormitory or bunkhouse, usually in poor condition.

(Russian, ‘workers’). A socialist party active in Russian politics between 1905 and 1917. The Trudoviks were a breakaway faction of the SRs who won large numbers of seats in the first two State Dumas, one of whom was Alexander Kerensky.

tsar (also spelled czar or tzar)
A Russian word for ‘emperor’, derived from the Latin ‘Caesar’.

Tsarskoye Selo
Russian for ‘tsar’s village’. A small town approximately 15 miles south of St Petersburg. The home of the Alexander Palace, Nicholas II’s favourite residence.

A person or group who pioneers or leads the way, usually with new or improved ideas. During the Russian Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks often referred to themselves as the ‘vanguard of the revolution’ or ‘vanguard of the proletariat’.

Vecheka (see CHEKA)

The branch of the Soviet government responsible for economic policy and management. Vesenkha had the authority to nationalise companies, confiscate resources, set production targets and decide labour conditions.

war communism
The name given to the Bolshevik economic policy imposed during the Russian Civil War (1918-21). War communism sought to supply the war effort with compulsory grain requisitioning, along with strong state controls over labour and production. It was replaced in 1921 by the New Economic Policy (NEP).

What is to Be Done?
The name of a 1903 text written by Lenin, where he outlines his views about the composition, membership and tactical approaches of an effective revolutionary party. It is widely regarded as the blueprint for the Bolshevik movement.

White Armies
An umbrella term for counter-revolutionary army units that fought against the Bolshevik Red Army during the Civil War.

White Russians
Prior to the revolution, this referred to the people of Slavic ethnicity who inhabited the Ukraine and Belarus. After 1917 it was also used to describe those who opposed the Bolshevik regime and/or fled as refugees during the Civil War.

White Terror
Violence and harassment carried out by the White armies against suspected Bolshevik supporters during the Civil War.

Winter Palace
The official residence of the Romanov royal family in tsarist Russia. The Winter Palace is an opulent 1,500-room building that saw many critical events of the revolution, including ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the arrest of the Provisional Government on October 26th 1917.

Workers’ Opposition
A faction of the Bolshevik party that emerged in 1920 and was led by Alexander Shlyapnikov and supported by Alexander Kollontai. It criticised the Soviet government’s centralised economic planning and growing bureaucracy, arguing that workers should have more control of their factories and workplaces.

zemstvo (plural, zemstva)
A representative local council. The zemstva were established by Alexander II in 1864 and given the legal authority to make local improvements in education, healthcare and social policy. Most zemstva were dominated by conservative or liberal nobles so were mildly reformist but not revolutionary.

Workers’ unions created and run by agents of the Okhrana, usually as a means of limiting or controlling anti-government dissent. They took their name from the Okhrana chief Zubatov.

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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 M-Z” at Alpha History,, 2014, accessed [date of last access].