Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution

IV – Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly

Written: 1925-1928, Vienna, Leningrad, Dietskoye Seloe
First Published: L’An 1 de la révolution russe, 1930
This Version: New International, Vol.XIV No.6, August 1948, pp.186-191.
Transcription: Tex Crawford.
Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The elections to the Constituent Assembly, so long delayed by the Government, under pressure from the bourgeoisie, took place in the middle of November.

Every class and every party took part, but with widely differing sentiments. The big bourgeoisie found little hope in the future of the Assembly. Numerous witnesses show us the bourgeoisie in profound disorder at that time; as a class it was without leaders, without a program, and without purpose. The volunteer army of General Alexeyev received ridiculously small subsidies from commercial and. industrial capitalists; the military leaders were not supported, as the selfishness of individual capitalists got the better of their class spirit.

The armed resistance to the revolution was the work of the reactionary generals and the military caste, which had grown large during the war. Among the career officers, the bourgeoisie and the nobility predominated; among the more numerous reserve officers, the intellectuals and the petty bourgeoisie. The former were the active and virile elements of counter-revolution. They were contemptuous of the Constituent Assembly. They wanted to form a new governmental center and an army of trustworthy regiments to re-establish law and order the same way that they fought wars without sparing ammunition.

The Constituent Assembly was awaited with almost mystical faith by the S-R Party. Having renounced its revolutionary traditions, this party had lived in a democratic haze for months. Powerful in the support of the peasant millions, the intellectuals, and even of some radical elements of the bourgeoisie, encouraged Socialist International and the Allied governments, the S-R Party, sure of a majority in the coming Constituent Assembly which would doubtless be followed by a legislative assembly! believed itself the great parliamentary and governing party of tomorrow. Could it be otherwise?

The certainty of an S-R electoral victory embarrassed the Bolsheviks. Lenin wanted to modify the electoral laws to give the vote to all citizens over eighteen years of age, to legalize the recall of candidates and delegates, and to refuse the vote to the Cadets and other counter-revolutionary parties. But the Bolsheviks themselves had demanded the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, which would have been a step in advance under Provincial Government. Besides, the Assembly was anxiously awaited by the provinces.

“Will there be any progress if the Assembly is composed of Cadets. S-Rs, and Mensheviks?” Lenin asked. “We shall be stronger on the day such an Assembly meets than we are today,” he was answered. Lenin gave way to the majority, but not without vowing: “This mistake shall not cost us the revolution.” [1]

Lenin’s Views

He expanded his views on the Constituent Assembly in an article published in Pravda the end of December. To summarize:

The Constituent Assembly provided the widest democracy possible under a bourgeois republic, and therefore once had a legitimate place in the Bolshevik program. However, the Soviets provided a superior form of democracy which led more rapidly to socialism. The vote for the Constituent Assembly was deceptive, because it was based on electoral lists drawn up before the great changes wrought by the revolution. The most popular peasant party, the S-Rs, presented only one list of candidates, although it was really split into several parties. [2] The majority of the people had not yet had time to take account of the revolution. The recent elections to the Army Committee, the committees in the provinces, etc., showed that a political regroupment was under way. By embarking on civil war in Finland and in the South, the counter-revolutionists “have made it impossible to settle vital questions by formal democratic methods.”

Such questions could be solved, Lenin said, only by the complete victory of the workers and peasants, “by the pitiless repression of the slave-drivers’ rebellion.” To consider the Constituent Assembly as above the class struggle and the civil war was to adopt a bourgeois point of view. “If the Constituent Assembly opposes Soviet power it is condemned to inevitable political death.” “The interests of the revolution take precedence over the formal rights of the Constituent Assembly.”

What must be done to resolve the crisis? Lenin asked. The people should use their right to re-elect members of the Assembly; these new members should be for the Soviets and against the counter-revolution. “Otherwise the crisis can be solved only by reactionary measures.”

The late November elections gave the following results: by December 30, 520 deputies had been returned: 161 Bolsheviks, 267 S-Rs,41 Ukrainian S-Rs and Mensheviks, 15 Cadets, 3 Mensheviks, 33 deputies (mostly S-R) from national minorities and small parties. [3] The votes of 36,262,560 electors were divided as follows:

Bourgeois parties




about 13% (Cadets. etc.)



about 58%



about   4%



about 25%

The Mensheviks and the S-Rs combined amounted to 22,600,000 votes, about 62 per cent of the total. These figures from the S-R, N.V. Svyatitsky, were commented on by Lenin in 1919 in a remarkable study entitled The Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Analyzing the Vote

The figures had their meaning, he said, if one knew how to read them. The country voted for the S-Rs, the cities for the Bolsheviks. The immense majority of the proletariat voted for the latter: The relatively imposing vote for the Mensheviks was misleading, as they obtained 800,000 votes from the non-proletarian Caucasus. For the two capitals, Moscow and Petrograd, the figures were:










In the army and the navy the division was no less significant:






National minorities




“Half the army was for the Bolsheviks,” Lenin concluded. “Otherwise we could not have conquered.” Besides, the fronts which were nearest the capitals and therefore best informed and most important gave the Bolsheviks an overwhelming majority of 1,000,000 to 420,000 for the S-Rs (western and northern fronts).

Although they had only one fourth of the votes, the Bolsheviks were certain of victory because they controlled the critical points.

“Have a crushing majority at the critical point at the decisive moment – this law for military success is also a law for political success. especially during the bitter class struggle of the revolution.”

“In every capitalist country, the forces of the proletariat are much greater than its normal strength in relation to the total population. The proletariat dominates the Centers and the nerve system of capitalist economy.”

As for the peasant masses, Lenin said, the proletariat can only win their support after the seizure of power:

“Political power in the hands of the proletariat can and should become the means of bringing the non-proletarian toiling masses to its side, the means of wresting these masses away from the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois parties.”

Lenin did not draw these conclusions until a year after the Constituent Assembly. On the eve of its convocation, the Bolsheviks felt sure of themselves, but took every precaution against any possible resistance on the part of the S-R “democracy.”

Our mistake is plain, said Lenin. We have seized power, and now we are put in the position of being forced to seize it again.

He mistrusted some of the peasant regiments in Petrograd.

The Defense of the Constituent Assembly

Nothing could have shown up the weakness of the petty bourgeoisie more completely than did the Constituent Assembly.

We owe to a member of the S-R Party a detailed account of the preparations for the defense and the extension of the Constituent Assembly.

Boris Sokolov said the Constituent Assembly was the ideal of the democratic S-R Party; but it was not the ideal of the people, who understood and preferred the Soviets. “The Soviets belong to us.” The peasants voted willingly for “their” S-R Party because they wanted the land; but they did not understand the Constituent Assembly which they regarded as a means rather than an end.

The S-R majority of the Assembly was sure to come into conflict with the “Bolshevik usurpers.” There had to be some plan of armed defense. A Committee for the Defense of the Constituent Assembly was set up in broad daylight in the most frequented part of the city. According to Sokolov, it was nothing more than a committee of intellectuals without contact with the workers or the garrison.

The military organization of the S-R Party was a much more considerable power. It had a controlling influence on two of the garrison regiments, the Semenovsky and the Preobrazhensky, where it had more than six hundred party members. It could count on the armored-car division. It published an anti-Bolshevik newspaper (Seraya Shinel). Several dozen S-R soldiers, recalled from the front, were organized under Cover of a People’s Soldiers’ University. And there was also the Combat Organization (terrorists) of the party led by a certain Onipko and compnsing some thirty courageous men.

These were real forces. Had they been properly managed they would have given the Bolsheviks a run for their money. But inaction finally demoralized and dispersed them.

Parliamentary Psychosis

Dominated by a sort of parliamentary psychosis hard to parallel in history, the S-R leaders seemed to lose all contact with reality. Sokolov’s story is more comic than tragic. The S-R fraction of the Constituent Assembly set up an office not far from the Tauride Palace and devoted itself to great works of preparation under the guiding inspiration of the party oracles, Chernov and Avksentiev. Commissions, sub-commissions, and bureaus deliberated far into the night, elaborating: volumes of law, studying the future democratic constitution. The S-Rs were preparing to legislate and govern with a fine show of parliamentary ceremonial.

Absorbed in this parliamentary game, the S-Rs would hear nothing of resistance to possible violence on the part of the Bolsheviks. Their offices were open to all. They did not suspect the tapping of their telephones. Bound up in their labors, they did not set foot in the barracks or the factories-where their Bolshevik colleagues were daily gaining strength.

The Federation of Officials and Employees offered to support the S-R Constituents with a general strike. They declined the offer. They were urged to defend themselves: “Defend ourselves? Aren’t we the representatives of the sovereign people?” they answered. “They believed that some mysterious power protected the Constituent Assembly; that the Russian people would not allow the ideal of the revolution to be profaned ...” said Sokolov. They never stopped mouthing words, which they mistook for ideas.

The leaders of the S-R Party, especially Chernov, shared this parliamentary psychosis, which was doubtless reinforced by a clear enough realization of their impotence. “The Bolsheviks dare not,” was their consolation.

Gotz seems to have been a little more clear-headed. He took an active part in preparing the “peaceful” demonstration for January 5, which was intended to capture the support of the populace for the Assembly on the day of its opening. Peaceful? The S-R Central Committee decided this only at the last moment. Everything had been prepared to transform the demonstration into an insurrection. Thirteen armored cars were to advance on Smolny; the S-R regiments were to support this move. But at the last moment the Constituent fraction condemned the idea.

The S-R terrorist group command of Onipko successfully prepared the kidnapping or the assassination of Lenin and Trotsky. The terrorists had successfully gained entrance to Smolny: one terrorist had become Lenin’s chauffeur, the other the janitor of a house frequently visited by Lenin. A like net had spread around Trotsky.

Once more, at the last moment, the S-R Central Committee refused to authorize these attempts. Motive: the two leaders of the revolution were too popular; their disappearance would provoke terrible reprisals; besides, the time for terrorism was past: a curious mixture of feebleness and good political sense. Two of the terrorists nevertheless tried to kill Lenin, whose automobile was attacked in the middle of the city on January 2.

In the factories under their influence the S-Rs who came to stir up the fight against the Bolsheviks were roughly received. They were asked if they “couldn’t come to some agreement with the Bolsheviks, who are devoted to the cause of the people.” Under constant pressure from Bolshevik agitators, the committees of the Semenovsky and Preobrazhesky regiments finally gave way.

S-R Insurrection Misfires

The demonstration on January was large and pitiful. [4] The petty-bourgeois citizenry turned out en masse. They jammed the main streets of the city. A few scattered rifle shots from the sailors dispersed the powerless mob, abandon and disarmed by its own irresolute leaders. “It was ridiculous and absurd,” said Sokolov. He thought that the Bolsheviks would not be able to withstand an energetic and well-armed demonstration. He was wrong, very wrong. But the nervous reaction that follows a great effort often makes it difficult to rally the masses for a time. The lassitude of the Petrograd proletariat might have left the situation in the balance for a day or two.

Meeting in the atmosphere of a defeated insurrection, the Constituent Assembly felt itself condemned from the start. Nothing remained of the grandiose illusions but a mixture of fear, civic resignation, and pose. The Constituent Assembly had but to die beautifully; to act for history; to make memorable speeches. And indeed that was the main occupation of this first parliament of the Russian petty bourgeoisie, the most pitiful of all parliaments.

“A number of deputies asked our leaders: ‘If the Bolsheviks use violence, arrest us, or even kill us, what shall we do?’ And the clear answer perfectly reflected the spirit of our fraction: ‘Remember that we are the people’s representatives ... and must be willing to sacrifice our lives.’”

The S-R deputies decided not to separate, so as to as to be ready to face any tragedy together they ordered sandwiches and candles in case the Bolsheviks turned off the current and cut off supplies.

In short, on the day of the decisive historical battle of the Constituent Assembly, the S-R Party collapsed. The bloody defeat of the enemies of the workers’ insurrection in Moscow, of the armed uprising of the Junkers, and of the resistance of the Stavka [General Staff] had their effect. The politicians of the democratic counter-revolution trembled before the masses.

Constituent Assembly Meets

The Bolshevik president of the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee, J.M. Sverdlov, opened the Constituent Assembly. A tall and broad-shouldered man with abundant hair, fine and clear features, a steely glance and a sharply pointed beard, he was one of the best organizers of the Bolshevik Party. He found no difficulty in mastering the confused tumult of the opening minutes. The vast hall of the Tauride Palace which had been renovated for the occasion had an almost gala appearance. With red ribbons their buttonholes, the well-dressed deputies of the S-R majority filled the benches of the right and center. The less numerous left had outspoken support of the people, the soldiers, sailors and workers, who cheered them from the galleries.

Sverdlov urged the Assembly to endorse the Rights of the Exploited and Toiling Masses, a categorical document drawn up by Lenin and promulgated by the Vitsik [All-Russian Soviet Executive]. It proclaimed Russia a Federation of Soviet Republics, “a free union of free “nations.” It endorsed the socialist revolution; the nationalization of land; the Soviet laws on workers’ control of production; the formation of the Supreme Economic Council “to ensure the power of the workers over their exploiters, and a first step toward the complete expropriation of the means of production and transportation”; the nationalization of the banks; the universal obligation to work; the formation of the Red Socialist Army; the complete disarmament of the owning classes; the principle of a democratic peace without indemnity or annexations; the annulment of the debts to the landowners, the bourgeoisie and the czar, “as the first blow at international finance capital.” It condemned the colonial policy of the bourgeoisie; barred all exploiters of labor from holding government positions; and declared the functions of the Constituent Assembly to be “the general elaboration of the fundamental principles for the transformation to the socialist society.”

The Talking Shop

The majority rejected this document. When Sverdlov finished his speech they found that they were “wasting time,” and without further discussion went on to the election of a president. The left Wing composed of the Bolsheviks and the Left S-Rs nominated the S-R leader, Maria Spiridonova, a former terrorist whose excellent record and devotion to the cause of socialism were known to everyone. The majority nominated V.M. Chernov, the official and most discredited leader of the S-Rs, respected neither in his own nor in any other party; in fact, a man whom no one really wanted. Believing that a Jew could not play a leading role in their “People’s Republic,” the S-R majority failed to nominate Abraham Gotz for the presidency, although he was the real and respected leader of the party. Chernov was elected by 244 votes to 153 for Spiridonova.

He immediately mounted the platform to deliver a long and dull inaugural address, much like any other ministerial speech. It was a masterpiece of conciliation and equivocation.

The speaker invoked the Zimmerwald Peace Conference, and then upheld the idea of a general peace as opposed to a separate peace, thus cloaking his fidelity to the Allies under a cloud of socialist phrases. He mentioned a “socialist army” to be organized. He outlined a complicated constitution providing for collaboration of the Constituent Assembly with the soviets and the various national constituent assemblies. He proclaimed the liberation of the Ukraine and of the Mohammedans in Russia, proclaimed Russia a Federation of People’s Republics, and returned several times to the nation’s “will for socialism.” “The revolution has just begun,” he said. “The people want action, not words …. socialism is not equality in poverty …. we want planned socialist construction ... we shall pass from control of industry to a workers’ republic.” Finally he gave his approval to the nationalization of the land without indemnity. When he made the mistake of invoking the heroes who had died for the nation during the war, he was interrupted by shouts from the benches of the left:

“Killed by Rudenev, Chernov, and Kerensky!”

This loud and empty election eloquence, remarkable mainly for its vagueness, no longer fooled anyone. Bukharin refuted his palaver in a concise speech, as brutal and frank as Chernov’s had been unctuous and pleasant. “We can talk of the will for socialism,” he said, “and still be the murderers of socialism.” Was Chernov talking of socialism in two hundred years? Where did Chernov stand? With Kaledin and the bourgeoisie, or with the workers, soldiers, and peasants? Who was to have power now? “Are you working for a miserable little bourgeois parliamentary republic? We have declared war to the death on such a government in the name of the Great Soviet Republic of labor,” Bukharin concluded, “May the ruling classes and their lackeys tremble before the communist revolution. The workers have nothing to lose but their chains.”

Collapse and Dissolution

Tseretelli, the only Menshevik present, advanced the theses of his party with dignity and resolution: “He is not a socialist who encourages the proletariat to strike for its ultimate goal before it has passed through the democratic stage which enables it to become strong.” You have taken over production. Have you succeeded in organizing it? he asked the Bolsheviks. The land which is supposed to be taken by the peasants will actually be taken by the rich peasants, the kulaks, who have the equipment. Your peace negotiations risk the future of Russian democracy and socialism on the chance of a European revolution. You deride the bourgeois democracy for which we are willing to go to the gallows. The revolution is in danger of collapsing under its own weight. My party does not fear unpopularity, he said. We shall guard the torch of the working class for the future.

He concluded with an appeal for conciliation between the various parties in the Constituent Assembly. No dictatorship of the minority, or anarchy would follow on reaction! He was for a democratic republic; universal suffrage; expropriation of the landowners; rehabilitation, control, and regulation of industry by the state; eight-hour day and social insurance for the workers; re-establishment of democratic liberties; the right of national minorities; the struggle for peace.

The confused and cloudy debates went on and on without adding anything to the first speeches. Then with the applause of the Left and the booing of the majority, Raskolnikov read a declaration drawn up by Lenin:

“Not wishing to hide the crimes committed by the enemies of the people for one moment, we declare that we are withdrawing from the Constituent Assembly, trusting in the Soviet to decide what attitude we must adopt toward the counter-revolutionary majority.”

After a moment of surprised silence, the Assembly passed on down the agenda. Imperturbably riveted to the presidential chair, Chernov leaned his gray head and his Second Empire beard over the papers before him; an endless procession of speeches and declarations evaporated into the air. An angry crowd looked down from the galleries. At about four o’clock in the morning, after the Left S-Rs had withdrawn with a declaration similar to the Bolsheviks, as Chernov was reading off the ten articles of “the projected basic land law” the anarchist sailor, Zhelezniak, came forward from the guard to the platform.

“The hall was silent as the sailor leaned forward and said something which could not be heard. Indignant and worried, Chernov slouched back in his elegant chair:

“‘The members of the Constituent Assembly are also tired,’ he said. ‘But no weariness can interrupt the reading of this agrarian law which is awaited by all Russia.’

“This time the sailor’s voice was heard by all; it was ironic and calm, without the slightest threat:

“‘The guard is tired. Please leave the hall.’”

Chernov looked out over the dejected Assembly and said: “It has been proposed to close this session after adopting the text of the land laws without further debate.” The words, “it has been proposed,” brought a laugh from the galleries. In the hasty voting that followed, solemn laws were passed with feverish speed, as a menacing voice from the guard punctuated the procedure with:

“Enough! Enough!”

Fatigue, added to exasperation with this legislative comedy, drove the sailors into a cold fury. The cocking of rifles echoed through the hall. The comedy was becoming tragic. Then the bearded president Chernov rose, and the session was closed.

The decree dissolving the Constituent Assembly was not passed until the following night.

“The toiling masses have been convinced by their experiences that bourgeois parliamentarism is outworn; that it is incompatible with the construction of socialism; for national instruments cannot take the place of class instruments in breaking the resistance of the owning classes and laying the foundations of socialism.”

Lenin spoke for this motion before the Vitsik, saying in part:

“While parliaments never give the slightest support to the revolutionary movement, the Soviets breathe fire into the revolution and cry to the masses: ‘Fight for yourselves, take for yourselves, organize for yourselves ...’ No one is astonished that revolutionary movements are always accompanied by chaos, ruin, and temporary disorganization ... But bourgeois society also exists by warfare and slaughter.”

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly was a sensation in other countries. In Russia it passed almost unnoticed.

Workers’ Control and Nationalization

The economic program of the Bolsheviks called for workers’ control of industry and the nationalization of the banks. The decree on workers’ control was passed on November 14. It legalized the introduction of workers into the control of business, made the decisions of the control commissions binding, and abolished trade secrets. [5] The leaders of the revolution had no idea of going any farther. By exercising control, the working class would learn to direct. By the nationalization of the banking establishments and credit institutions, the working class would recover through the state a part of the profits levied on their work by capital, and thus their exploitation would be diminished.

This measure was calculated to put the working class on the road to complete expropriation, as was stated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Masses. Such a rational and planned advance toward socialism could hardly meet with the approval of the owners, who were still confident of their own strength and still believed the proletariat incapable of holding power. The innumerable economic struggles that had gone on before redoubled after the revolution and were all the more violent. The first measures of complete expropriation came from the masses and not from the governments. They were determined by the course of the struggle rather than by any socialist plan. The government did not adopt complete nationalization until eight months later, in June 1918, under the threat of the foreign intervention. In March 1919, the Bolsheviks were still planning on mixed companies in which Russian and foreign capital would share with the Soviet state.

The disappearance of the political defenses of capitalist exploitation gave birth to a movement among the workers to take over the means of production. It was possible to take over the factories and shops, so why not take them. The sabotage practiced by the capitalists brought on expropriation as a retaliatory measure. When the owner claimed his factory, the workers reopened it on their own account. There was also the problem of depriving the counter-revolution of its economic base, its wealth.

Nationalization Becomes Necessary

The Council of People’s Co decreed the nationalization of the Russo-Belgian Metal Company, the Putilov factories, the Smirnov spinning mills and the 1886 Electric Company. Shliapnikov remarked that the directors of the larger works, notably the Franco-Russian works in Petrograd, that their factories be nationalized. They wanted to escape the frightful task of reorganization. Belgian, Swedish and French owners made the same received a categorical refusal! Some of the directors simply wanted to avoid responsibility to their stockholders for the increasingly difficult management of the factories.

The war had brought in a regime of rationing and requisition. There was nothing else for the government but to continue this regime on a different class basis. The Soviet authorities undertook the requisitioning of food from wholesale houses, and of warm clothing, shoes and bedding from the wealthy. House-to-house visits were made. Taxes were in arrears; local authorities imposed taxes on the wealthy; but always on their own initiative and for their own use.

The following examples were characteristic of the acts of nationalization. At Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the workers nationalized two textile factories in answer to the owners’ sabotage. In the province of Nizhni-Novgorod, several factories were nationalized when their owners indicated that they no longer wished to run them. In the province of Kursk, the sugar refineries, the streetcar lines, a leather factory and several metal works passed into the workers’ hands for practically the same reasons. In the Don Basin the directors of the mines joined forces the Whites, and the workers of seventy-two mines set up an Economic Council which took over their functions. At Romanovo-Borisoglebsk, the mills and oil refineries were nationalized after a lock-out.

On December 5, the Supreme National Economic Council was formed to coordinate all the activities of the local central authorities that were managing and controlling production, including the economic Commissariats for Supply, Agriculture, Finance, and Transport. These commissariats were not however, subordinated to the council and it acquired its powers only little by little during months of work. At that time the local authorities were the only ones that really counted.

The trade unions, which would seem designed to play an important role during such a period, were far outdistanced by events. Too often they were led by Mensheviks, S-Rs, or pure-and-simple trade unionists. The factional struggle paralyzed the national trade-union center. The leaders of the railway and government workers’ trade unions were anti the Bolsheviks, Other unions spent more time looking out for their own welfare than trying to serve the working class as a whole.

The backwardness of many of the workers played a part. Sometimes the trade unions started up cooperatives and carried on a business that bordered dangerously on famine speculation. At times severe struggles broke out over immediate demands that reflected nothing but extreme trade-union patriotism. “The revolution is over, double the wages! The hour of luxury for us has sounded, ...” “Even in the field of requisitions and nationalization, anarchistic tendencies were manifested in attempts to use the factories for the sole benefit of the workers involved, or in high-handed confiscation of supply trains passing through the nearest railway station.

Menshevik Demagogy

The counter-revolutionists were well aware of this backwardness of some of the workers, and they exploited it for all it was worth. Manufacturers who were working for the state frequently raised wages to impossible heights. When factories closed down, the Mensheviks in the trade unions demanded the payment of future wages. The Mensheviks in the Petrograd chemical workers’ union demanded tremendous wages and salaries on the ground that they controlled large stores of explosives. In the very heat of the Moscow street battle, the city ran out of bread and the flour-mill workers, indifferent to the fate of the revolution, went out on strike for a raise in wages.

The nationalization of the banks, which was forced on the government by the financiers’ resistance to control, by their refusal to collaborate with the workers and by their leading part in the sabotage, was one of the most important steps taken before the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. The decree making the banks a state monopoly was issued on December 14.

All private banks were merged with the state bank. The holdings of small depositors were guaranteed. A second decree ordered an inventory of all individual safe-deposit boxes under penalty of confiscation. Coined gold and bullion was requisitioned and placed in the current accounts of the state bank. The Red Guard occupied the banks; recalcitrant directors were jailed. In several banks the staffs went on strike against the violence of the Bolsheviks.

On the day the banks were nationalized, there was a debate on the question in the Vitsik between Lenin and a Menshevik Internationalist named Avilov. The latter was in agreement on “principles” but emphasized the gravity and complexity of financial matters. “We must do nothing,” he said, “without the greatest caution, profound investigation, and the assistance of the staffs. By violence we shall only succeed in driving down the ruble.” Lenin’s answer was no less typical than this timorous argument:

“You tell us,” Lenin said, “of the complexity of the problem, and that we all recognize. But if you use this complexity to block our efforts at socialization, then you are nothing but a demagogue, and a shameless demagogue.

“You accept the dictatorship of the proletariat in principle, but when we call it by its proper name in Russian, a mailed fist, you begin to talk of the fragility and complexity of things.

“You refuse to see that this mailed fist creates as it destroys. If we pass on from an abstract principle to its practical application, that is all to our credit.

“We understand that the proposed measure is complex. But none of us is going to try to administer it, not even those who possess an economic education. We shall call in financial experts. Once we have the keys in our hands, we know how we can get all the advice we need from the former millionaires. Whoever wants to work is welcome on the condition that he does not try to reduce every revolutionary initiative to a dead letter.”



1. See Trotsky, Lenin, Chapter IV. – V.S.

2. This grave and characteristic error of the Left S.Rs is worthy of notice. Separated from the Right S-Rs by an unbridgeable gulf but bound by a common tradition and old illusions on majority rule, the Left S-Rs presented a single ticket in the name of the old party. Their popularity thus benefited the counter-revolutionary S-Rs. – V.S.

3. There were actually more than 600 elected but more than 150 did not have time to reach Petrograd. – V.S.

4. Boris Sokolov confesses that the majority of the demonstrators belonged to bourgeois and middle-class sections of the population and were more inspired by their hatred for the Bolsheviks than by any desire for the Constituent Assembly. These reactionary elements had already come together by instinct behind the S-Rs and the Constituent Assembly before the first important battles of the civil war had occurred. This is worth remembering – V.S.

5.Art. 2: Control shall be exercised by all the workers concerned in the enterprise through their elected organs (Factory Committees. etc.) ... the employees and technical staff shall also be represented in these organs. Art. 7: All business correspondence is to be submitted to the controlling organs … trade secrets are abolished. The proprietors are ordered to present all the books and reports of the current as well as of past years to the control organs. Art. 8: The decisions of the control organs are obligatory for the proprietors and can be abrogated only by higher control organs. Art 10: The managers and the representatives elected by the workers and employees to exercise the control are responsible to the state …” The owners had three days’ grace to appeal from the decisions of the lower workers’ control organs to the higher. Local councils of workers’ control were formed and ordered to call an All-Russian Congress; an All-Russian Council for workers’ control was to centralize their activity. – V.S.

Last updated on: 7.2.2009