The Socialist Revolutionaries were the most influential group in Russia up to 1917.
Various groups had the title ‘Socialist Revolutionary’ but they combined in 1900 to form one Socialist Revolutionary Party with its headquarters in Karpov. The Socialist Revolutionaries developed out of the Narodniks and with this developments came a support for acts of terrorism. After 1900, Gershuni and Azef took the lead in developing the terrorist element with the Socialist Revolutionaries. Though Azef was a police agent, the Socialist Revolutionaries took part in many assassinations.
The Socialist Revolutionaries played little part in the 1905 Revolution. In December 1905, the Socialist Revolutionaries held their first formal congress in Finland and came up with their Four Points:
1) Russia needed an armed uprising.
2) Russia needed a federal republic.
3) All private estates were to be expropriated.
4) Terror could be used to advance the cause of the Socialist Revolutionaries if it was sanctioned by the highest authority within the Socialist Revolutionaries.
The Socialist Revolutionaries took no part in the elections for the Duma in 1906. In the next election, they got 36 seats. When the Second Duma dissolved, they took no part in the elections for the third Duma.
In March 1917, when the first revolution took place, the Socialist Revolutionaries were in a strong position. The army looked to them for help in the nation’s time of crisis. However, this was the Socialist Revolutionaries high spot. After the March Revolution, the Socialist Revolutionaries never had so much power – and Lenin was not going to allow them the regain their old power.
During the era of the Provisional Government under Kerensky, the Socialist Revolutionaries tried to court a stronger relationship with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In this they failed and in 1919, the party even proposed an overthrow of Lenin – on paper a farcical belief, but in the reality of the Russian Civil War, a possibility. Such plans came to nothing.
Why did the Socialist Revolutionaries fail?
They first failed to gain the support of the peasants - the largest social group in Russia. Also the party’s hierarchy was also divided by belief. Some wanted a greater input into terrorism while others wanted a move towards Marxism. As a party, the Socialist Revolutionaries never became an organised group as they had off shoots at nearly every level – beliefs, campaigns etc. One of the biggest factors in explaining why the Socialist Revolutionaries failed to developed was the simple fact that they could not decide as a party on how to move Russia on. Should they use violence? Political rhetoric? A combination?
In November 1917, the actions taken by the Bolsheviks left the Socialist Revolutionaries bereft of any political credibility. They had failed to absorb the political significance of 1917 and in November 1917, Lenin was not in a position where he had to bargain for support with the Socialist Revolutionaries.
In January 1918, the Socialist Revolutionaries meekly disbanded after a meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Lenin held all the political aces and by now the Socialist Revolutionaries held none.
Though the beliefs of the Socialist Revolutionaries might have been popular, their grass roots support was weak. After November 1917, the Socialist Revolutionaries were doomed to history.