I BELIEVE we are more confused over the Constituent Assembly than over most things that have happened in Russia. And there is good reason for that confusion. Following the political developments as closely as I did in those days, I found it difficult enough to understand. Here were the radical parties for months shouting for the Constituent--in fact, ever since the first revolution. At last it was called, suddenly dissolved, and not a ripple in the country!
Of course the outstanding reason was that the Constituent voted against the Soviets. And that was a pretty fair test of the Soviets. If any power in Russia could have broken the Soviets it would have been the Constituent and the Constituent vanished at the first attempt. How did it happen? asked a surprised world. By bayonets? Yes and no. It happened because the people were with the Soviets and the bayonets were in the hands of the people; there was no force to oppose the Soviets.
The Constituent Assembly delegates were elected on lists made up in September and the Constituent Assembly was not called until the following January. The elections were held in November. The method of Russian elections is this: to vote for party and programme, the candidates being nominated by the Central Committee of the party. Now the majority of the Constituent Assembly delegates were Socialist Revolutionists and before the elections came the Socialist-Revolutionist party had split. The majority of the members went with the party of the left, but the Central Executive Committee was still dominated by the right. Therefore, the Delegates to the Constituent Assembly did not represent the real feeling of the country at that time. Moreover, the elections were held two weeks after the Bolshevik insurrection, when the country had not yet completely moved to the left; Bolshevism had not yet accomplished itself. By January, when the Constituent met, the country had swung. In other words, elections were held for the supreme organ of the kind of government which was out of existence.
Marie Spirodonova, who keeps in closer touch with the peasants than any one I know in Russia, told me that many of the peasants did not vote at all and the delegates did not want to come. The one thing that was clear in their minds was that the Soviets of Soldiers' and Workers' Deputies should still go on, no matter what the Constituent Assembly did. ... It took four or five weeks for the wave of Bolshevism to hit some of the various centres, but when it did, this was the result produced. As far as I could gather from every source of information available, the people demanded: all power to the Soviets--and this was not qualified by anything.
An All-Russian Peasants' Conference was held in Petrograd shortly after the Bolshevik uprising. The majority of the delegates came right Socialist Revolutionists--in three days they had joined the left wing; had elected Spirodonova president and gone over to the Soviets, marching in a body to Smolny. There were two All-Russian Peasants' assemblies--both did the same thing.
The Bolshevik leaders did not know how much power the Constituent Assembly would have, but as time went on one thing was clear--the Soviets and the Constituent Assembly absolutely cancelled each other. The main difference between the two bodies was that the Constituent Assembly included the Cadets, which the November revolution had been made to put down.
I was present at the opening of Constituent; it was a terrific performance from beginning to end. About eight o'clock the delegates assembled and the air fairly crackled with excitement. It had been extremely hard to obtain tickets and the Tauride palace was jammed. I sat directly over the presidium in a little gallery reserved for reporters.
Lindhagen, the Socialist mayor of Stockholm, strolled by and whispered to us: "It is going to be a regular wild west show ... every one is carrying a gun."
Victor Tchernoff, once so powerful with the peasants but discredited because he stood for coalition at the Democratic Congress, was elected President. Whenever he spoke he was hissed and booed by the left. Tseretelli was the only Constituent Assembly member listened to by both sides with respect. Tseretelli is a great man, the finest of all the moderate socialist party leaders. Why Kerensky and not Tseretelli was made head of the nation under the Provisional Government I could never understand. Tseretelli towers above Kerensky as Lincoln does over Buchanan or Cleveland. But middle parties and their leaders can never stand in time of revolution and Tseretelli went down with all the rest.
In opening the Constituent Assembly, Sverdlov, chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets--the new parliament--read the following declaration, which the Soviet Government demanded should be adopted by the Constituent as its working basis:
"DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE TOILING AND EXPLOITED PEOPLE
1. Russia is to be declared a republic of the workers', soldiers' and peasants' Soviets. All power in the cities and in the country belongs to the Soviets.
2. The Russian Soviet Republic is based on the free federation of free peoples, on the federation of national Soviet republics.
Assuming as its duty the destruction of all exploitation of the workers, the complete abolition of the class system of society, and the placing of society upon a socialistic basis, and the ultimate bringing about of victory for Socialism in every country, the Constituent Assembly further decides:
1. That the socialization of land be realised, private ownership of land be abolished, all the land be proclaimed common property of the people, and turned over to the toiling masses without compensation on the basis of equal right to the use of land.
All forests, mines and waters, which are of social importance, as well as all living and other forms of property, and all agricultural enterprises, are declared national property.
2. To confirm the decree of the Soviets concerning the inspection of working conditions, the highest department of national economy, which is the first step in achieving the ownership by the Soviets of the factories, mines, railroads and means of production and transportation.
3. To confirm the decree of the Soviets transferring all banks to the ownership of the Soviet Republic, as one of the steps in the freeing of the toiling masses from the yoke of capitalism.
4. To enforce general compulsory labour, in order to destroy the class of parasites, and to reorganise the economic life.
In order to make the power of the toiling masses secure and to prevent the restoration of the rule of the exploiters, the toiling masses will be armed and a Red Guard composed of workers and peasants formed, and the exploiting classes shall be disarmed.
1. Declaring its firm determination to make society free from the chaos of capitalism and imperialism, which has drenched the country in blood in this most criminal war of all wars, the Constituent Assembly accepts completely the policy of the Soviets, whose duty it is to publish all secret treaties, to organise the most extensive fraternisation between the workers and peasants of the warring armies, and by revolutionary methods to bring about a democratic peace among all the belligerent nations without annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the free self-determination of nations --at any price.
2. For this purpose the Constituent Assembly declares its complete separation from the brutal policy of the bourgeoisie, which furthers the well-being of the exploiters in a few selected nations by enslaving hundreds of millions of the toiling peoples of the colonies and the small nations generally.
The Constituent Assembly accepts the policy of the Council of People's Commissars in giving complete independence to Finland, in beginning the withdrawal of troops from Persia, and in declaring for Armenia the right of self-determination.
A blow at international financial capital is the Soviet decree which annuls foreign loans made by the governments of the Tsar, the land-owners and the bourgeoisie. The Soviet government is to continue firmly on this road until the final victory from the yoke of capitalism is won through international workers' revolt.
As the Constituent Assembly was elected on the basis of lists of candidates nominated before the November revolution, when the people as a whole could not yet rise against their exploiters, and did not know how powerful would be the strength of the exploiters in defending their privileges, and had not yet begun to create a socialist society, the Constituent Assembly considers it, even from a formal point of view, unjust to oppose the Soviet power. The Constituent Assembly is of the opinion that at this moment, in the decisive hour of the struggle of the people against their exploiters, the exploiters must not have a seat in any Government organisation or institution. The power completely and without exception belongs to the people and its authorised representatives--the workers', soldiers' and peasants' Soviets.
Supporting the Soviet rule and accepting the orders of the Council of People's Commissars, the Constituent Assembly acknowledges its duty to outline a form for the reorganisation of society.
Striving at the same time to organise a free and voluntary, and thereby also a complete and strong union among the toiling classes of all the Russian nations, the Constituent Assembly limits itself to outlining the basis of the federation of Russian Soviet Republics, leaving to the people, to the workers and soldiers, to decide for themselves, in their own Soviet meetings, if they are willing and on what conditions they prefer, to join the federated government and other federations of Soviet enterprise.
These general principles are to be published without delay, and the official representatives of the Soviets are required to read them at the opening of the Constituent Assembly."
At two o'clock in the morning of November 19th, the "Declaration of the nights of the Toiling and Exploited People" was put to a vote, and defeated. The spokesman of the Bolshevik party demanded the floor, and read for his faction the following statement:
"The great majority of the toiling masses of Russia, the workers, peasants and soldiers, have demanded that the Constituent Assembly recognise the results of the great October revolution, the decrees of the Soviets regarding land, peace and inspection of working conditions, and above all that it recognise the Soviet government. Fulfilling this demand of the great majority of the Russian working-class, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee has proposed to the Constituent Assembly that the Assembly acknowledge this demand as binding upon it. In accordance with the demands of the bourgeoisie, however, the majority of the Constituent Assembly has refused to accede to this proposal, thereby throwing the gage of battle to the whole of toiling Russia. The Socialist-Revolutionary right wing, the party of Kerensky, Avksentieff and Tchernoff, has obtained the majority of the Constituent Assembly. This party, which calls itself a Socialist Revolutionist party, is directing the fight of the bourgeoisie against the workers' revolution, and is in reality a bourgeois counter-revolutionary party. In its present state the Constituent Assembly is a result of the relative party power in force before the great October revolution. The present counter-revolutionary majority of the Constituent Assembly, elected on the basis of obsolete party lists, is trying to resist the movement of the workers and peasants. The day's discussions have clearly shown that the Socialist Revolutionist party of the Right, as in the time of Kerensky, makes concessions to the people, promises them everything, but in reality has decided to fight against the Soviet government, against the socialist measures giving the land and all its appurtenances to the peasants without compensation, nationalising the banks, and cancelling the national debt.
Without wishing for a moment to condone the crimes of the enemies of the people, me announce that we withdraw from the Constituent Assembly, in order to allow the Soviet power finally to decide the question of its relations with the counter-revolutionary section of the Constituent Assembly."
Thereupon the Bolsheviki, Left Socialist Revolutionists and Unified Social Democrat Internationalists left the chamber. The remaining delegates continued to make speeches, but there was no heart in what they said; without the radical elements, the Constituent was dead. At three o'clock they passed the following resolution to be sent broadcast to the whole world:
In the name of the peoples who compose the Russian State, the All-Russian Constituent Assembly proclaims the Russian state to be the Russian Democratic Federated Republic, uniting indissolubly into one whole the peoples and territories which are sovereign within the limits prescribed by the Federal Constitution.
1. The right to privately own land within the boundaries of the Russian Republic is hereby abolished forever.
2. All the land within the boundaries of the Russian Republic, with all mines, forests and waters, is hereby declared the property of the nation.
3. The Republic has the right to control all land, with all the mines, forests, and waters thereof, through the central and local administration, in accordance with the regulation provided by the present law.
4. The autonomous provinces of the Russian Republic have title to land on the basis of the present law and in accordance with the Federal Constitution.
5. The tasks of the central and local governments as regards the use of lands, mines, forests and waters are:
a. The creation of conditions conducive to the best possible utilisation of the country's natural resources and the highest possible development of its productive forces.
b. The fair distribution of all natural wealth among the people.
6. The rights of individuals and institutions to land, mines, forests and waters are restricted merely to utilisation by said individuals and institutions.
7. The use of all mines, forests, land and waters is free to all citizens of the Russian Republic, regardless of nationality or creed. This includes all unions of citizens, also governmental and public institutions.
8. The right to use the land is to be acquired and discontinued on the basis prescribed by this fundamental law.
9. All titles to land at present held by the individuals, association and institutions are abolished in so far as they contradict this law.
10. All land, mines, forests, waters, at present owned by and otherwise in the possession of individuals, associations and institutions, are confiscated without compensation for the loss incurred.
In the name of the peoples of the Russian Republic, the All-Russian Constituent Assembly expresses the firm will of the people to immediately discontinue the war and conclude a just and general peace, appeals to the Allied countries proposing to define jointly the exact terms of the democratic peace acceptable to all the belligerent nations, in order to present these terms, in behalf of the Allies, to the governments lighting against the Russian Republic and her Allies.
The Constituent Assembly firmly believes that the attempts of the peoples of Russia to end the disastrous war will meet with a unanimous response on the part of the peoples and the Governments of the Allied countries, and that by common efforts a speedy pence will be attained, which will safeguard the well being and dignity of all the belligerent countries.
The Constituent Assembly resolves to elect from its midst an authorised delegation which will carry on negotiations with the representatives of the Allied countries and which will present the appeal to jointly formulate terms upon which a speedy termination of the war will be possible, as well as for the purpose of carrying out the decisions of the Constituent Assembly regarding the question of peace negotiations with the countries fighting against us.
This delegation, which is to be under the guidance of the Constituent Assembly, is to immediately start fulfilling the duties imposed upon it.
Expressing, in the names of the peoples of Russia, its regret that the negotiations with Germany which were started without preliminary agreement with the Allied countries, have assumed the character of negotiations for a separate peace, the Constituent Assembly, in the name of the peoples of the Federated Republic, while continuing the armistice, accepts the further carrying on of the negotiations with the countries warring against us in order to work towards a general democratic peace which shall be in accordance "with the people's will and protect Russia's interests."
And now the wily Russian politicians over here, in the face of this historic document, tell us that the Socialist Revolutionists of the Right and the Mensheviki are standing for war! They want us to put down the Soviets so they can go on fighting. There is no doubt in the world that Russia must push the Germans over her borders. But why should we waste a lot of energy putting down a popular government to perform that task, when we can help the government that is in power to do the same thing? At the Constituent Assembly the moderate socialist parties stood for confiscation of landed property without compensation and for immediate peace. The Soviets can go no further than that; and there is no reason to believe that the advocates of the Constituent could have brought in the Allies while continuing the armistice begun by the Bolsheviki, there is no reason to believe that they would have made a less disastrous peace with the Germans; there is evert reason to believe that the peace might have been more terrible than it was, because the Soviets had on their side whatever force of arms there was.
If we are out of harmony with the Soviets--we must necessarily be also out of harmony with the wishes of the Constituent. That is why I, for one, do not see the use of splitting hairs over this matter of approval. The principal problem for America is whether or not she desires friendship with Russia; and friendship was never improved by mixing in family quarrels.
An hour after the passing of the above resolution of the Constituent Assembly--it was then four in the morning--the Cronstadt sailors who were on guard began to murmur among themselves. They were tired and they Ranted to go home. Finally one cleared his throat and said: "All the good people have gone, why don't you go? The guards want to get some sleep...." So ended the Constituent.
To quote an English colleague: "The Assembly died like the Tsardom, and the coalition before it. Not any one of the three showed in the manner of its dying that it retained any right to live.