Pavel Borisovich Axelrod (Russian: Па́вел Бори́сович Аксельро́д; 25 August 1850 – 16 April 1928) was a Russian Menshevik.

Pavel Axelrod
Pavel Axelrod.jpg
Born(1850-08-25)25 August 1850
Died16 April 1928(1928-04-16) (aged 77)
Stockholm, May 1917: Pavel Axelrod, Julius Martov and Alexander Martinov at Norra Bantorget

Early life and careerEdit

Pavel Axelrod was the son of a Jewish innkeeper. His parents lived in the Jewish poorhouse.[1]. He was forced to work for a living from an young age, though while still in his early teens, he produced his first political essay, on the condition of the Jewish poor in Mogilev Region, in modern day Belarus. At the age of 16, he discovered the writings of the German socialist Ferdinand Lasalle, which had a major influence on him.[2] Later, he obtained a place at Kiev University, with financial help from wealthy Jews, and organised a political discussion. In 1874, he was one among hundreds of idealistic students who left the cities to work among the peasants. When that experiment failed, he emigrated to Geneva, where he was converted to anarchism and joined a circle of Russians who followed the ideas of Mikhail Bakunin. He returned to Russia briefly later in 1875, and was a founder of the populist Black Repartition group, arguing in the journal Vol'noe Slovo that the Kiev pogrom was damaging to the proletariat,[3] He revisited Russia in 1879, and joined the Land and Liberty (Земля и Воля) party, one of whose leading members was Georgi Plekhanov. He emigrated to Switzerland again in June 1880, remaining in exile for 37 years.


In 1875 in Geneva, Axelrod married his former private student Nadezhda Ivanovna Kaminer, daughter of Isaac Kaminer.[4] A student himself, Axelrod was Kaminer's and her sister's tutor. Despite severe financial hardship during the first years, the marriage proved to be successful. They had three children: Vera (22.11.1875), Alexander (18.07.1879) and Sofia (14.11.1881). Nadezhda Ivanovna Axelrod-Kaminer died in 1906.

To provide income for his family while in exile, Axelrod raised milk cows and produced his own kind of buttermilk which he then would sell and deliver himself to his customers. Axelrod would argue politics over his milk cans. His home was a place of refuge for fugitives from Russia, who were fed there and some were fitted out with news clothes.[5]

In the mid-1880s Axelrod established his own small company producing kefir. By the end of the 1890s, Axelrod's company had offices in Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, which provided steady income and allowed him to support revolutionaries. In 1908, Axelrod sold his company in exchange for the retirement payments to him from the new owner.

Marxist revolutionaryEdit

In Switzerland, in September 1883, Axelrod joined Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich and two others in Emancipation of Labor (Осводождение Труда), the first Russian Marxist group. He wrote several essays which laid out the differences between marxists and the traditional Russian populists, or Narodniks, who believed that a peasant revolution would overthrow the Russian monarchy and introduce socialism, bypassing capitalism - The Workers' Movement and Social Democracy(Рабочее двение и социал-демокатия) (1885) and Letter to Russian workers on the movement for the liberation of the proletariat (Письма к пусским рабочим об освободительном двеженее пролетариата) (1889)[6].

In 1900, Axelrod, Plekhanov and Zasulich joined the with younger revolutionary Marxists Julius Martov, Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Potresov to form the editorial board of Iskra, a Marxist newspaper, from 1900 to 1903. When Iskra supporters split at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1903, Axelrod sided with the Menshevik faction. Originally, he was seen as the leader of the Mensheviks, before he ceded that position to the younger Martov. Axelrod fundamentally disagreed with Lenin's concept of the party as a disciplined organisation of professional revolutionaries who led the workers. He believed that the revolutionaries would eventually take instructions from organised labour, and during the 1905 revolution, he was the author of a proposal to hold a mass workers' conference. After that failure, his influence within the Menshevik party diminished, but he continued to be a spokesman for the Menshevik in international conferences, particularly after the outbreak of war in 1914, when he was part of the Russian delegation at the anti-war Zimmerwald Conference. He argued that a German victory would bring down the regime in Russia, and defended German socialists who supported their government's war efforts.He was then so close to the centrist leaders of the German Social Democratic Party, Karl Kautsky and Hugo Haase that Lenin accused him of being a 'Germanophile'[7] and a 'chauvinist'[8].

In 1917, after the February Revolution Axelrod returned to Russia. By then some Mensheviks had already joined Kerensky's Provisional Government and supported government war policy. Despite all his efforts, Axelrod failed to gain Mensheviks' support for a policy of immediate peace negotiations with the Central Powers. After the Bolshevik victory, which Axelrod called a "historical crime without parallel in modern history", he toured the world rallying socialist opposition to the Bolsheviks.


Axelrod died in exile in Berlin in 1928.


  • Abraham Ascher. Pavel Axelrod and the Development of Menshevism, Harvard University Press, 1972, ISBN 0-674-65905-8, 420p.
  1. ^ Ascher, Abraham (1972). Pavel Axelrod and the Development of Menshevism. Harvard University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0674659056.
  2. ^ Schmidt, Yu.O. (chief editor), Bukharin N.I. et al (eds) (1926). Большая советская энциклопедия volume 2. Moscow. p. 31.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Shindler, Colin (2012). Israel and the European Left. New York: Continuum. p. 4.
  4. ^ Menda-Levy, Oded (2010). "Kaminer, Yitsḥak". The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Translated by Hann, Rami.
  5. ^ Deutscher, Isaac (1954). The Prophet Armed, Trotsky: 1879-1921. London: Oxford U.P. p. 64.
  6. ^ Schmidt, Yu.O. (chief editor), Bukharin N.I. et al (eds) (1926). Большая советская энциклопедия volume 2. Moscow. p. 31.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Lenin, V.I. "Letter from the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. to The Editors of Nashe Slovo". Lenin Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  8. ^ Lenin, V.I>. "Under a False Flag" (PDF). Collected Works of V.I.Lenin vol 21. Retrieved 27 July 2019.

External linksEdit