Constitutional Democrats

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Constitutional Democrats


(Cadets), members of the Constitutional Democratic Party. The party’s official name was People’s Freedom Party.

The Cadets were the chief party of the counterrevolutionary liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie in Russia. The party was formed during the course of the 1905– revolution in Russia. The founding congress of the Cadets, which adopted a program and a set of party rules, was held in Moscow, Oct. 12–, 1905. The formation of the party followed the activity of the liberal bourgeois Union of Liberation and Union of Zemstvo Constitutionalists; these two groups provided the central core for the new party. The party was definitively established at its second congress in St. Petersburg, Jan. 5–, 1906, at which its program was made more precise and a permanent Central Committee was elected. (The first congress, because of its small attendance, had only elected a temporary Central Committee.) Among the chief figures in the Cadet leadership were P. N. Miliukov, A. M. Ko-liubakin, V. A. Maklakov, A. I. Shingarev, P. B. Struve, F. I. Rodichev, I. V. Gessen, A. I. Kaminka, V. D. Nabokov, Prince Pavel D. Dolgorukii, Prince Petr D. Dolgorukii, M. M. Vinaver, A. A. Kornilov, Prince D. I. Shakhovskoi, and I. I. Petrunkevich. In 1906 the party had 70, 000–, 000 members. Representatives of the bourgeois intelligentsia predominated on the Central Committee—lawyers, professors, literary figures, zemstvo (local government) activists, and liberal landowners. The newspaper Rech ’, which in fact became the central organ of the party, began publication in February 1906. The third and fourth congresses of the party were also held in 1906, the third in St. Petersburg, April 21–, and the fourth at Helsinki, September 23–. The fifth congress was held in Helsinki, Oct. 23–, 1907. No further congresses were called until 1916.

The Cadet program adopted in October 1905 left open the question of what form the state should take. (Paragraph 13 stated: “The constitutional structure of the Russian state is determined by its basic laws.”) But three months later, when the situation had changed and the defeat of the revolution was under way, the second Cadet congress made this formula more precise: “Russia should be a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy,” with ministers responsible to the “representatives of the people,” that is, a one-chamber or two-chamber parliament elected on the basis of universal suffrage. The program included demands for bourgeois freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and the inviolability of one’s home and person. The agrarian part of the program provided for the distribution of state lands, crown lands (udeVnye and kabinetnye), and church and monastery lands to peasants with little or no land, and for the partial alienation of privately owned land through purchase at “equitable, not market, prices.” On labor matters, the program called for the extension of labor legislation to all forms of wage labor, the gradual introduction (“insofar as is possible”) of the eight-hour day, the right of workers to strike and form unions, and compulsory government insurance, “with the costs to be carried by the employers.” Special attention was paid to enlarging the rights of the zemstvos, extending such units of local self-government throughout the country, and creating smaller units of self-government. On the national question, the Cadets demanded the right for non-Russians to use their own languages in public life, as well as autonomy for Poland and Finland within the empire. The relatively radical character of the program is explained by the fact that the party was formed at the culminating phase of the revolution, when the revolutionary spirit of the masses was at its height, and the Cadets aimed at influencing these masses and drawing them along behind them. The Cadets’ aspiration to fill the role of “leader of the nationwide opposition” was based on their mistaken assumption of the peasantry’s political backwardness and a conviction peculiar to liberal bourgeois intellectuals in general that they represent the interests of the nation as a whole, “above classes.”

The Cadets’ chief thesis was the categorical rejection of revolution, to which they counterposed the path of “peaceful” and “constitutional” development for Russia. Their aim was to “bring the revolutionary chaos under control” and guide it into the channels of “normal social reform.” Until the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, the liberal bourgeoisie in part regarded the revolutionary movement as justified, with certain reservations, and even sympathized with it, attempting to frighten the tsarist regime by revolution and hoping to make a deal with it in order to win a “constitution” at the expense of the people. The Manifesto of October 17, in the Cadets’ opinion, signified the realization of the revolution’s goals and the beginning of “an era of creative parliamentary work.” After the armed insurrections of December 1905 the Cadets made a sharp turn to the right. They protested against the “tyrrany of the revolution” and condemned the “madness of armed insurrection” and tactics of “extremists,” especially of the revolutionary Social Democrats.

The Cadets used the State Duma as the arena for their political activity. The victory of the Cadets in the elections to the First State Duma in 1906 was assured by the constitutional illusions of the broad layers of the democratically minded voters (especially the peasants), who, because of the boycott of the Duma elections by the Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s), gave their votes to the Cadets as the only opposition party. Of the 478 deputies, the Cadet Duma group numbered 179 and became the directing center of the Duma. The Cadet S. A. Muromtsev became president of the Duma. In the spring of 1906 the Cadets entered into secret negotiations with the government in regard to assuming ministerial offices. Speculating on the fear of the Trudoviks (the Toilers group of deputies in the Duma) that the Duma would be dispersed, the Cadets demanded that the former pursue a moderate policy and repudiate any conflicts with the government. The Cadets tried to win over the Trudoviks through a draft agrarian law (the draft of the 42). However, the Trudoviks rejected it, introducing their own draft law (that of the 104). The Cadets’ policies in the Duma brought about a sharp decline in their influence among the masses. In an attempt to shore up their prestige and to avert a call by the left-wing parties for revolutionary action in response to the dissolution of the Duma, a group of the Cadet deputies signed the Vyborg Appeal in July 1906. This called on the population to offer passive resistance to the government. But two months later the Fourth Congress of the Constitutional Democratic Party opposed any attempt to implement the appeal.

In the Second Duma the Cadet representation was reduced by almost half (98 deputies out of 518), but as a result of the waverings of the Trudoviks, the Cadets maintained their position as the “center.” The right-wing Cadet F. A. Golovin was elected president of the Duma. Under the conditions of the further decline of the revolution, the Cadets’ politics took on a more and more moderate and counterrevolutionary character. “There is no longer any of last year’s vacillation between reaction and the struggle of the people,” wrote Lenin in characterizing the right-ward evolution of the Cadets. “This has yielded to frank hatred for this struggle, a cynically outspoken ambition to put a stop to the revolution” (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 15, p. 20). The Cadets’ capitulatory policies made it easier for the government to dissolve the Second Duma and carry out the June 3, 1907, coup d’etat. This betrayal of the people’s interests exposed the Cadets conclusively in the eyes of the masses. Any elements whatsoever of a democratic tendency at that point abandoned the party.

In the period of reaction after June 3 the Cadet party went through a state of crisis and collapse. As Miliukov acknowledges, the Cadets ceased to exist as an organizational unit. At the fifth congress they decided against any independent drafting of legislation and took the road of “seriously criticizing” the draft legislation of the government and “introducing improvements in it.” Their fifth congress resolved that the Cadets should enter into a bloc with the Octobrists in the Third Duma and “decisively rebuff” the leftists should they try to undermine the work of the Duma. The Cadets described their role in the Third Duma, in which they were a minority (54 deputies), as that of the “responsible” opposition, as distinct from the “irresponsible” opposition of the Social Democrats, who used the Duma for propaganda purposes. In 1909 the Cadets took part in the ideological offensive of the reaction against revolution and democracy, contributing to the renegade collection Vekhi. In the summer of 1909, at a luncheon given by the lord mayor of London, Miliukov declared: “so long as there is a legislative chamber in Russia controlling the budget, the Russian opposition will remain His Majesty’s opposition, and not an opposition to His Majesty.” This declaration was approved by a Cadet conference in November 1909.

The new revolutionary upsurge, the deepening crisis of the ruling circles, the legislative paralysis of the Duma, and the fear of becoming completely isolated from the masses in the event of a new revolution—all these things together forced the Cadets to adopt a more “leftist” tone in the Fourth Duma. They introduced legislation for universal suffrage, reform of the State Council, and bourgeois freedoms, condemned the policies of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs, and carried out other similar activities. In 1913 the Cadet leaders were forced to acknowledge that the solution to political problems lay not in the Duma but in “rapprochement with the masses.” However, as before, the liberal bourgeoisie feared the revolutionary movement of the masses more than they did the reaction. Thus, the Cadets continued to place their main hopes in the Duma on a bloc with the Octobrists.

World War I set aside for the moment the contradictions between the liberal bourgeoisie and the autocracy. The Cadets solemnly declared their “unity” with the government and proclaimed the need to set aside all “differences” until the war had been victoriously concluded. The defeats on the battlefront, the corruption of the tsarist regime, the prospect of total military collapse, and the deepening of the revolutionary situation in the country revived and strengthened the oppositional mood not only among the bourgeoisie but also among the landlords. In 1915 the Cadets played a decisive role in the formation of the so-called Progressive Bloc in the Duma (consisting of Cadets, Octobrists, Progressives, and others). The Bloc’s program (calling for a “government of public confidence” and a minimum of liberal reforms) was aimed at warding off the imminent revolution and carrying the war “to a victorious conclusion.”

The February Revolution of 1917 abrubtly changed the Cadets’ situation. They began to play a leading role in the first bourgeois Provisional Government, in which the Cadets Miliukov, Shingarev, N. V. Nekrasov, and A. A. Manuilov were ministers. “The Cadet party,” Lenin noted, “the chief capitalist party, held pride of place as the ruling and government party of the bourgeoisie” (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 34, p. 58). Having come to power, the Cadets did everything they could to prevent the resolution of the agrarian and national questions or any other fundamental question of the revolution. They favored continuation of the war. Their seventh congress, held in Petrograd, Mar. 25– (Apr. 7–), 1917, taking the antimonarchist mood of the masses into account, declared that “Russia must be a democratic republic.” In 1917 the Constitutional Democratic Party had no more than 50, 000 members.

The imperialist foreign policy of Miliukov’s ministry aroused sharp protests on the part of the revolutionary masses during the April Crisis of 1917. The leaders of the bourgeoisie saw their way out of the crisis by forming a coalition government with the SR’s and Mensheviks on May 5 (18). The Cadet ministers in the government were Shingarev, Nekrasov, Manuilov, and Shakhov-skoi. The eighth congress of the Constitutional Democratic Party, held in Petrograd, May 9– (22–), declared “full support for the new Provisional Government.” However, on July 2 (15), as the political situation reached a point of extreme tension, the Cadets left the government, calculating that by the threat of destroying the coalition they could force the SR-Menshevik leadership of the Soviets to take the road of openly suppressing the mass movement and establishing a “strong authority.” Having eliminated dual power and established, with the aid of the compromisers, the single rule of the bourgeoisie, the Cadets entered the newly formed coalition government on July 24 (August 6) with F. F. Kokoshkin, S. F. Ol’denburg, P. P. Iurenev, and A. V. Kartashev as ministers. The ninth congress of the Cadets (Moscow-Petrograd, July 23– [August 5–]) steered a course toward a counterrevolutionary coup and establishment of a military dictatorship. The Cadets demanded the dissolution of the Bolshevik Party and organized a new slander campaign against the Bolsheviks and Lenin.

The collapse of the Kornilov revolt laid bare the counterrevolutionary nature of the Cadets as the “main Kornilovite party” (Lenin, op. cit, p. 217) and greatly weakened their position. The SR-Menshevik leaders arrived at a new agreement with the Cadets, with the result that the last Provisional Government (formed on September 25 [October 8]) had the following Cadet ministers: A. I. Konovalov, N. M. Kishkin, S. A. Smirnov, and A. V. Kartashev. In the face of the oncoming revolution, the Cadets intensified their activities in mobilizing counterrevolutionary forces and began to prepare for a new attempt at a Kornilov-type coup. This political line was confirmed by the decisions of the tenth congress of the Constitutional Democratic Party in Moscow, October 14– (27–). The October Socialist Revolution frustrated the Cadets’ plans. On Nov. 28 (Dec. 11), 1917, the Soviet government issued a decree declaring the Cadets to be a “party of enemies of the people.” Members of the leading bodies of the party were subject to arrest and trial before a revolutionary tribunal. The Cadets went underground and continued their bitter struggle against Soviet power. Cadet leaders led a number of underground anti-Soviet centers, such as the National Center and the League of Restoration. They collaborated with the White Guard generals Kaledin, Kolchak, Denikin, and Wrangel and took part in a number of White Guard governments.

After the defeat of the White Guards and interventionists, most of the leading Cadet elements fled abroad. At a conference of Central Committee members of the party, held in Paris in May 1921, a split occurred. Miliukov appeared at the head of the so-called democratic group, which held that the essence of a “new tactic” should be that of undermining the proletarian dictatorship from within. In 1924, Miliukov’s group formed the Republican-Democratic Association. The other Cadet group, headed by Gessen and Kaminka, which continued to support the “invading from outside” stand, centered on the newspaper RuV. The Cadet party as a unified political organization had definitively ceased to exist.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed. (See Index vol., part 1, pp. 212–17.)V. I. Lenin i istoriia klassovykh politicheskikh partii v Rossii. Moscow, 1970.
Chermenskii, E. D. Burzhuaziia i tsarizm v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1970.
Komin, V. V. Bankrotstvo burzhuaznykh i melkoburzhuaznykh partii Rossii v periodpodgotovki ipobedy Velikoi Oktiabr’skoi sotsialistiches koi revoliutsii.Moscow, 1965.
Oktiabr’skoe vooruzhennoe vosstanie: Semnadtsatyi god v Petrograde books 1–2. Leningrad, 1967.
Spirin, L. M. Klassy ipartii v grazhdanskoi voine v Rossii (1917–1920 gg.). Moscow, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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