Karl Kautsky


The Dictatorship of the Proletariat


Chapter VI

Constituent Assembly and Soviet


The contrast between democracy and dictatorship has just acquired an important significance in the Russian Revolution. The Socialists of Russia were from the first divided. They comprised Social Revolutionaries and Marxists. The Social Revolutionaries were, in the first place, the representatives of the peasantry, which in Russia, in contrast to all the rest of Europe, were still a revolutionary factor, and therefore could march with the Socialist proletariat. Against the Social Revolutionaries were the Marxists, the representatives of the industrial proletariat. These divided into two sections, the Mensheviks, who held that only a bourgeois revolution was possible in the existing economic conditions in Russia, unless the revolution coincided with a European Socialist revolution, and the Bolsheviks, who always believed in the omnipotence of will and force, and now, without considering the backwardness of Russia, are trying to shape the Revolution on Socialist lines.

In the course of the Revolution the contrast became more acute. The Mensheviks considered it to be their task to take part in a Provisional Coalition Government until the duly constituted National Assembly had formed a definite government. The Bolsheviks endeavoured, even before the meeting of the National Assembly, to overthrow this Provisional Government, and replace it by government of their party. An additional ground of opposition came with the question of peace. The Mensheviks wanted immediate peace as much as the Bolsheviks, both wanted it on the basis of Zimmerwald – no annexations or indemnities. Both sections had been represented at Zimmerwald, and the Mensheviks had been in the majority there. But the Mensheviks wanted a general peace, and all belligerents to adopt the watchword – no annexations or indemnities. So bug as this was not achieved, the Russian army should keep their arms in readiness. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, demanded immediate peace at any price, and were ready, if necessary, to conclude a separate peace, and they sought to enforce their views by increasing the already great disorganisation of the army.

They were supported by the war weariness of great masses in the army and among the people, as well as by the apparent inactivity of the Provisional Government, which, however, accomplished far more political and social reform than any other bourgeois government in the same period, although it did not do as much as would be expected of a revolutionary government. The elections for the Constituent Assembly could not be so rapidly completed as was desired. It was first necessary to renew the old official machinery, and to create democratic town and country representation. Enormous difficulties were met with in the compilation of voters’ lists in the giant Empire, whose census took place in 1897. So the elections to the Constituent Assembly were constantly postponed.

Above all, peace was no nearer. Wherever the guilt for this may rest, the statesmen of the Entente did not understand how necessary it was for themselves at that time to pronounce in favour of no annexations or indemnities. They pursued a policy which made the Entente appear to the Russian people the obstacle to peace, and with them their Allies the Provisional Government. This was the reason why some of the Mensheviks, the Internationalists, demanded separation from the Entente, and went in opposition to the Provisional Government. Yet they did not go so far as the Bolsheviks. Under these circumstances, the Bolsheviks gained ground at the expense of the Mensheviks and the Provisional Government which they succeeded in overthrowing in November, 1917. Their propaganda zeal proved to be so great that they were able to draw a part of the Social Revolutionaries to their side. The left Social Revolutionaries henceforth marched with the Bolsheviks, into whose Government they entered, while the right and also the centre remained on the side of the Mensheviks.

The Bolsheviks drew their strength from the great expectations which they raised. If they were to retain this strength, they had to fulfil these expectations. Was that possible?

The Bolshevist Revolution was based on the supposition that it would be the starting point of a general European Revolution, and that the bold initiative of Russia would summon the proletariat of all Europe to rise.

On these suppositions, it was of no moment what form was taken by the Russian separate peace, what humiliations and burdens it placed on the Russian people, and what interpretations it gave to the principle of the self-determination of peoples. And it was also a matter of indifference whether Russia was capable of defence or not. According to this theory, the European Revolution formed the best defence of the Russian Revolution, for it would bring to the peoples in territory hitherto Russian real and complete self-determination.

The Revolution which would bring about Socialism in Europe would also be the means of removing the obstacles to the carrying through of Socialism in Russia which are created by the economic backwardness of that country.

This was all very logically thought out, and quite well founded, provided the supposition was granted, that the Russian Revolution must inevitably unchain the European Revolution. But what if this did not happen?

The supposition has not yet been realised. And now the proletariat of Europe is blamed for leaving the Russian Revolution in the lurch, and betraying it. This is a complaint against unknown people, for who can be made responsible for the inactivity of the European proletariat.

It is an old Marxist saying that revolutions cannot be made, but arise out of conditions. The conditions of Western Europe are, however, so different from those of Russia that a revolution there would not necessarily provoke one here.

When the Revolution of 1848 broke out in France, it immediately spread over that part of Europe lying east of it. It, however, halted at the Russian boundaries, and when the Revolution was unchained in Russia in 1905, it provoked strong suffrage movements in the countries to the west, although nothing that could be described as a revolution.

But the Bolsheviks must not be too much blamed for expecting a European Revolution. Other Socialists did the same, and we are certainly approaching conditions which will sharply accentuate the class struggle, and which may have many surprises in store. And if the Bolsheviks have up till now been in error in expecting a Revolution, have not Bebel, Marx, and Engels cherished a like delusion? This is not to be denied.

But the latter have never had. in mind a revolution at a specific time, and never elaborated their tactics in such wise that the existence of the party and the progress of the class struggle was made to be dependent on the outbreak of the Revolution, so that the proletariat was confronted with the dilemma: revolution or bankruptcy.

like all politicians they too have erred in their expectations. But such errors have never set them on a false track, and led them into a cul-de-sac.

Our Bolshevist comrades have staked all on the card of the general European Revolution. As this card has not turned up, they were forced into a course which brought them up against insoluble problems. They had to defend Russia without an army against powerful and implacable enemies. They had to establish a regime of well-being for all in a state of general dislocation and impoverishment. The less the material and intellectual conditions existed for all that they aspired to, the more they felt obliged to replace what was lacking by the exercise of naked power, by dictatorship. They had to do this all the more the greater the opposition to them amongst the masses became. So it became inevitable that they should put dictatorship in the place of democracy.

If the Bolsheviks were deceived in their expectations that they only needed to become the Government, in order to unchain the European Revolution, they were not less so in the anticipation that they had, only to grasp the helm of State, and the majority of the population would joyously range themselves behind them. As the Opposition under the conditions due to Russia’s situation, they had indeed developed great propaganda strength, as we have already noted. At the beginning of the Revolution only a small handful, they became so strong eventually as to seize the power of the State. But had they the masses of the population behind them? This should have been revealed by the Constituent Assembly, which the Bolsheviks, like other revolutionaries, had demanded, and for a period even violently demanded; the Constituent Assembly, to be chosen by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage.

Immediately after the capture of the Government by the Bolsheviks, the new regime was confirmed by the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, albeit in opposition to a strong minority, which left the Congress protesting. But even the majority did not yet repudiate the idea of the Constituent Assembly.

The resolution confirming the Soviet Government began with the words: “Pending the calling together of the Constituent Assembly, a Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government is to be formed, which is to be called the Council of People’s Commissaries.”

The Constituent Assembly then is recognised here as taking precedence of the Council of People’s Commissaries. On November 3 the Government dissolved the Town Council of Petrograd on the ground that it was in conflict with the outlook of the people, as manifested by the Revolution of November 7, and by “the elections to the Constituent Assembly”. The new members were proclaimed on the basis of the existing general franchise. Soon, however, a defect was discovered in the elections to the Constituent Assembly.

On December 7, the All-Russian Executive Committee of Soviets published a resolution, in which it was stated: “However the electoral arrangements of a body composed of elected representatives may be devised, these can only be considered to be truly democratic and really to represent the will of the people, when the right of recalling their members by the electors is recognised and exercised. This principle of real democracy applies to all representative bodies and also to the Constituent Assembly. The Congress of the Councils of Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates, who are chosen on equal grounds, has the right to issue writs for a new election in the case of town and parish councils, and other representative bodies, not excluding the Constituent Assembly. On the demand of more than half of the electors of the circumscription in question the Council must order a new election.”

The demand that the majority of the voters may at any time recall a deputy, who is no longer in agreement with their views, is entirely in accordance with the principles of democracy. But it is not clear, from this standpoint, why the Soviets should take the step of ordering new elections. However, at that time this represented the widest interference with the Constituent Assembly that had been made. Neither the establishment of the Assembly, nor the elections were touched.

But it was becoming ever clearer that the elections had not given the Bolsheviks the majority. Therefore, the Pravda of December 26, 1917, published a number of propositions relating to the Constituent Assembly, which Lenin had drawn up, and the Central Committee had accepted. One of them declared that the elections had taken place shortly after the victory of the Bolsheviks, but before the Social Revolutionaries had yet divided. The left and the right Social Revolutionaries had therefore had a common list of candidates. Consequently, the elections gave no clear indication of the real voice of the masses.

Whoever entertained this view, in face of the above-mentioned proposition of December 7, was committed to the conclusion that new elections should be ordered to the Assembly in districts which had chosen social revolutionaries. To what other end had this resolution been drawn up? Yet on December 26 it was already forgotten. And suddenly quite another song was heard in the other proposition of Lenin, with which we are here concerned. After he had shown us that the Assembly just elected was not suitable, because it did not express the real voice of the whole people, be declared that any assembly elected by the masses by general suffrage was not suitable: “The Soviet Republic represents not only a higher form of democratic institutions (in comparison with the bourgeois republic and the Constituent Assembly as its consummation) it is also the sole form which renders possible the least painful transition to Socialism.”

It is only a pity that this knowledge was arrived at after one had been left a minority in the Constituent Assembly. Conflict with the Assembly was now inevitable. It ended with a victory for the Soviets, whose dictatorship as a permanent form of government in Russia was proclaimed.


Last updated on 19.1.2004