Marx and Soviet Reality. Daniel Norman (1955)

Appendix A

Rosa Luxemburg had already discussed in the previous chapter of her essay the problem of the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, which in her opinion ‘had been decisive regarding their subsequent attitude’.

In that chapter she analysed Trotsky’s pamphlet From the October Revolution to the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, in which he claimed that the Bolsheviks were ‘completely sincere’ when advocating that ‘the path leading to the Constituent Assembly passed... by the seizure of power by the Soviets’. Yet, she says, ‘after these declarations Lenin’s first step following the October Revolution was to dissolve this same Constituent Assembly to which it should have opened the way’.

And to Trotsky’s main argument in defence of dissolution she answers – after reviewing the experiences of the Long Parliament the French Revolution, Louis Philippe’s Parliament, and the fourth Tsarist Duma:

... all this shows that ‘the heavy mechanism of the democratic institutions’ has a powerful corrective precisely in the vital movement of the masses, in their continual pressure... Certainly every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, this it undoubtedly shares with all human institutions. But the remedy found by Lenin and Trotsky, the suppression of democracy altogether, is worse than the illness it is supposed to cure: it obstructs indeed the living source from which alone can come the corrections of all congenital shortcomings of social institutions, namely, the active, free, energetic, political life of the broadest masses of the nation.

It is noteworthy that in the Bolshevik chorus of democratic demands before their ‘October’ victory, Stalin’s voice was not the least fervent. For instance, no further back than 5 November 1917 – that is, only two days before the Bolsheviks seized power – in an article in Pravda, Stalin displayed his powerful dialectic (in the style which was later to make him famous) in favour of the assembly as follows:

The people thought that after the overthrow of the Tsar, the Constituent Assembly would be convened at two or three months’ notice, but this convening has already been postponed several times and its adversaries do everything they can to prevent it taking place. Why? Because in the government there are enemies of the people who have everything to fear from a Constituent Assembly.

Naturally, this article is not to be found in Stalin’s Works, though a great many of his ‘congratulatory telegrams’ figure there in testimony to his ‘immortal genius’. No wonder this article was not considered worthy of selection by its author himself. Nor is it surprising to see Stalin scornfully dismissing Engels’ ‘naive’ assertion that a National Assembly and a real political life ‘in place of the almighty Tsar’ would mean the end of ‘the traditional Russian policy of conquest’ and of its diplomacy. Stalin’s letter was addressed on 19 July 1934 to the Politbureau, and its subject was to forbid the publication of Engels’ essay The Foreign Policy of Russian Tsardom in the theoretical fortnightly of the party, Bolshevik.

Stalin was of course very careful in his letter not to mention Engels’ argument which runs thus:

This diplomacy is possible only in a country where, and so long as, the people remain absolutely passive and have no will other than that of the government, no mission but to furnish soldiers and taxes for carrying out the objects of the diplomats. As soon as Russia has an internal development, and with that internal party struggles, the attainment of a constitutional form under which these party struggles may be fought out without violent convulsions... the traditional Russian policy of conquest is a thing of the past...