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A small glossary for discussion of Bolshevik policy

April 26, 2017

By Lars T. Lih. Three vivid and emotive Russian words are indispensable for a real understanding of the Bolshevik hegemony scenario: vlast, narod, and vozhd. While each of them have typical English equivalents that are not in themselves inaccurate, the English words leave out much that is important.

Vlast is usually translated “power,” but this is not an entirely adequate translation, since vlast has a more specific reference than the English word “power,” namely, the sovereign authority in a particular country. In order to have the vlast, one must have the right of making a final decision, to be capable both of making these decisions and of seeing that they are carried out. Often, in English, in an attempt to catch these nuances, vlast is translated by the unidiomatic phrase “the power.”

Narod means “the people,” but the political and emotional connotations are quite different. The Russian narod was made up of the workers, peasants and urban lower classes, in sharp distinction to educated and elite society. The Russian revolutionary “populists” of the nineteenth century were called narodniki. The narod was also a basic category for the Bolsheviks, although they also thought in class terms and saw one class component of the narod (the workers) as the natural leaders of the other basic component (the peasants).

Vozhd:  “Hegemon” was a learned Greek word for leader, while vozhd was a warmer and more familiar Russian word. Later on, Stalin was often called the great Vozhd of the Soviet Union.

The hegemony scenario of Old Bolshevism can be summarized in this way: the proletarian must become the vozhd of the narod in order to create a vlast able to carry the revolution to the end.

Praktiki: This Russian word, frequently used in discussions of Bolshevik policy on this website, refers to the mid-level activists who did the hands-on “practical” work of the party.

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