Constituent Assembly

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Constituent Assembly

 

in Russia, a parliamentary body that convened only once—on Jan. 5 (18), 1918, in the Tauride Palace in Petrograd.

The Decembrists were the first group in Russia to demand the convocation of a constituent assembly, which they called the Velikii Sobor (Great Assembly). In the 1860’s the idea of a constituent assembly, known as the Zemskii Sobor (National Assembly), was promoted by the members of the Narodnik (Populist) organization Land and Liberty; the idea was incorporated into the program of the People’s Will. A slogan calling for the convocation of a constituent assembly was included in the 1903 program of the RSDLP and gained wide currency during the first Russian revolution, the Revolution of 1905–07.

After the victory of the February Revolution of 1917, the idea of a constituent assembly was popular among the broad masses, especially the petite bourgeoisie. The petit bourgeois and bourgeois parties used it to distract the masses from the revolutionary struggle by asserting that a constituent assembly would legislate an end to all the country’s economic and political problems. The Provisional Government, however, under pressure from the bourgeoisie, blocked the convocation of an assembly for fear that “in Russia today” it would “yield a majority to peasants who are more to the left than the Socialist-Revolutionaries” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 34, p. 35). The Bolsheviks did not reject the idea of a constituent assembly, but they exhorted the masses to a revolutionary struggle, pointing out that when the bourgeois democratic revolution is transformed into a socialist one, “practice and the revolution tend to push the Constituent Assembly into the background” (ibid., vol. 31, p. 110). Lenin emphasized that a republic of soviets was a higher form of democracy than a bourgeois democratic republic with a constituent assembly. On Aug. 9 (22), 1917, the bourgeois Provisional Government scheduled the elections to the Constituent Assembly for November 12 (25). The election law provided for universal suffrage.

After the victory of the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik party sought to help the petit bourgeois masses rid themselves of bourgeois constitutional illusions by presenting them with the opportunity to compare the Constituent Assembly with the soviets. In Lenin’s words, in order “to destroy the bourgeois parliament in Russia we were first obliged to convene the Constituent Assembly, even after our victory” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 257). The Council of People’s Commissars confirmed the date for the elections, which were held in November and December in most places and in January 1918 in some remote areas. About half the electorate did not take part in the voting because of inadequate preparations for the elections, counterrevolutionary sabotage, and the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Bolsheviks polled 23.9 percent of the vote, the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s) 40 percent, the Mensheviks 2.3 percent, and the Constitutional Democrats 4.7 percent; the remaining votes were cast for other petit bourgeois and bourgeois parties and groups. The election results did not reflect the actual interrelations of political forces in the country because the influence of the working class and the Bolshevik party on the nonproletarian masses was “incomparably stronger in the extra-parliamentary than in the parliamentary struggle” (ibid., vol. 34, p. 219). Even the formal results, however, proved that the victory of the October Revolution conformed to the laws of history: the Bolsheviks won in Petrograd (45 percent of the vote), in Moscow (48 percent), on the Northern and Western fronts (56 and 67 percent, respectively), in the Baltic Fleet (58.2 percent), and in 20 okrugs (districts) of the Northwest and Central Industrial regions (53.1 percent). That is to say, the majority of the proletariat and almost half of the military voted for the Bolsheviks.

The counterrevolutionaries struggled against Soviet power under the slogan “All power to the Constituent Assembly!” and they created the Union for the Defense of the Constituent Assembly. On January 5 (18) the Constituent Assembly convened. About 410 deputies out of a total of 715 were present. The Centrist SR’s, led by V. M. Chernov, predominated. There were about 120 Bolshevik deputies. The counterrevolutionary majority in the Constituent Assembly refused to discuss the Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People, proposed by Ia. M. Sverdlov on behalf of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and refused to recognize the decrees of Soviet power adopted by the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The Bolshevik faction walked out of the session. The Left SR’s and the representatives of several other parties subsequently withdrew. At 5:00 A.M. on January 6 (19) the session of the Constituent Assembly was adjourned at the request of the guards. On the night of January 6–7 (19–20) the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, acting on a report by Lenin, issued a decree dissolving the Constituent Assembly; the decree was approved by the popular masses and by the delegates of the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

SOURCES

Vserossiiskoe Uchreditel’noe sobranie (1917 g. v dokumentakh i materialakh). Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Tezisyob Uchreditel’nom sobranii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 35.
Lenin, V. I. “Vybory v Uchreditel’noe sobranie i diktatura proletariata.” Ibid., vol. 40.
Rubinshtein, N. L. K istorii Uchreditel’nogo sobraniia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Istoriia KPSS, vol. 3, book 1, 1967, pp. 488–99.
Znamenskii, O. N. “V. I. Lenin ob Uchreditel’nom sobranii.” In the collection V. I. Lenin v Oktiabre i v pervye gody Sovetskoi vlasti. Leningrad, 1970.

O. N. ZNAMENSKII

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