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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX entury

Krupskaya's Reminiscences of Lenin

We could not be long "holidaying," though. After four days of it we had to be getting back to Petrograd. I have a memory of a winter road, a ride through Finnish pine woods, a glorious morning, and Ilyich's thoughtful face. He was thinking about the coming struggle. The question of the Constituent Assembly, which was due to meet on January 18, had to be decided within the next few days. By the beginning of 1918 the question of the Constituent Assembly was quite clear. When the Second Party Congress in 1903 had adopted the Party programme, the socialist revolution had seemed a thing of the distant future. The immediate aim of the working-class struggle had been the overthrow of the autocracy. The Constituent Assembly had then been a militant slogan for which the Bolsheviks had fought ever since the congress with much greater persistency and determination than the Mensheviks. At that time no one yet clearly envisaged any concrete form of democratic organization of government other than that of a bourgeois democratic republic. During the Revolution of 1905 the Soviets of Workers' Deputies which had originated spontaneously in the process of struggle, represented in embryo a new form of state power closely related to the masses. During the years of reaction Ilyich had deeply pondered that new type of organization and compared it with the forms of state organization that had been set up in the days of the Paris Commune. In addition to the Provisional Government, the February Revolution of 1917 had created an all-Russian organization of workers' and soldiers' deputies. At first the Soviets had followed the lead of the bourgeoisie, who, through their henchmenthe Mensheviks and the Right Socialist-Revolutionarieshad tried to convert the Soviets into instruments for obscuring the mass consciousness. Beginning from April, with Lenin's arrival in Russia, the Bolsheviks launched a wide campaign among the masses with the aim of raising the class consciousness of the workers and the poorest strata of the peasantry, and helped in every way to develop the class struggle.

The slogan "All Power to the Soviets," which the workers and peasants had inscribed upon their banners, virtually predetermined the direction which the struggle in the Constituent Assembly would take. One side would stand for the power of the Soviets, the other for the power of the bourgeoisie in the form of this or that type of bourgeois republic. The Second Congress of the Soviets had decided the question of the type of power beforehand, and the Constituent Assembly was called upon merely to form it and fill in the details. That is how the Bolsheviks saw it. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, considered that the Constituent Assembly would be able to reverse the wheel of history, and by setting up a government of the bourgeois-republican type, liquidate the Soviets or, st least, reduce their role to naught. On the eve of the October Revolution new elections to the Soviets were held in which the Bolsheviks, carrying out the decisions of the Party, received a majority.

The Party understood long before the October Revolution that the Constituent Assembly would not take place in a classless society. As far back as 1905, in his pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution dealing with the resolution of the Menshevik "conference," which took place during the Bolsheviks Third Congress of the Party in the summer of 1905, Vladimir Ilyich said that the Mensheviks, in their resolutions, called the slogan of the "Constituent Assembly" "a decisive victory," whereas "...the slogan of a popular constituent assembly has been accepted by the monarchist bourgeoisie (see the programme of the Osvobozhdenipe League) and accepted for the very purpose of conjuring away the revolution, of preventing the complete victory of the revolution, and of enabling the big bourgeoisie to strike a huckster's bargain with tsarism." (Works, Vol. 9, p. 29.)

And in 1917twelve years laterthe Bolsheviks took the power in October without waiting for any Constituent Assembly.

However, the Provisional Government had cultivated certain illusions around the idea of the Constituent Assembly. To shatter those illusions it was necessary for the Constituent Assembly to be convoked and an effort made to convert it to the service of the revolution, and if that proved impossible, to show the masses how harmful it was, to dispel all the illusions about it, and wrest this instrument of agitation against the new power from the hands of the enemy. There was no sense in postponing the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and already on November 10 the Council of People's Commissars announced its decision for the Constituent Assembly to be convoked at the appointed time. On November 21 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee adopted a corresponding resolution. Did the Bolsheviks have a majority in the Constituent Assembly? They had the proletariat, the vast majority of the proletariat behind them, while the Mensheviks at that time had lost almost all influence among the workers. At the decisive pointsin Petrograd and Moscowthe proletariat was not only Bolshevik-minded, but was a class-conscious revolutionary force steeled in fifteen years of struggle. In addition, it had succeeded in ranging the peasantry behind it. The slogans demanding peace and land, adopted at the Second Congress of the Soviets, had won for the Bolsheviks half the votes of the army and navy. The Socialist-Revolutionaries collected the vast majority of the peasants' votes. The Socialist-Revolutionaries split up into Rights and Lefts. The Left S.-R.'s were in the majority and had the backing of the poor peasants and most of the middle peasants. After the Second Congress of the Soviets the Central Committee of the Socialist-Revolutionaries expelled the Left members of the party who had taken part in that congress. The Special Congress of the Soviets of Peasants' Deputies held on December 8Lenin spoke thererecognized the Soviet power. The day after Ilyich made his speech the congress went to Smolny in a body and joined the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies which was in session there. The Special Congress of the Soviets of Peasants' Deputies ruled that representatives of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries were to join the government. The same day Ilyich wrote an article in Pravda "Alliance Between the Workers and the Toiling and Exploited Peasants." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 298-300.)

The Special Congress of Soviets of Peasants' Deputies showed that the influence of the October Revolution and of the letters from soldiers at the front, who were siding more and more with the Bolsheviks, was making itself felt in the countryside, where the poor and middle peasants were lining up with the Soviet power. The peasants had not yet learned the difference between the Left and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries. They had voted for the S.-R.'s in general, but actually the majority clearly stood for the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. Vladimir Ilyich submitted to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee the idea of introducing the right of recall in regard to previously elected deputies. That right, he said, was virtually the right of the constituency to control what its deputy was saying and doing. It still existed, by virtue of former revolutionary traditions, in the U.S.A. and in certain Swiss cantons. The right of recall was sanctioned by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and a corresponding decree was issued on December 6, 1917. The Provisional Government, as far back as August, had set up a committee for elections to the Constituent Assembly consisting of Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries. This committee had gone out of its way to side-track the work of preparing for the elections and refused to submit its progress report to the Council of People's Commissars. On December 6, the day the decree instituting the right of recall was passed, Uritsky was appointed Commissar to direct the activities of this committee. The latter refused to work under his direction and was arrested, but on December 10, on Lenin's order, the committee members were released. On December 6 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee resolved that the Constituent Assembly would be opened upon the arrival of its four hundred delegates in Petrograd. On December 11 the right Socialist-Revolutionaries and Constitutional Democrats attempted to organize a demonstration, but apart from a comparatively insignificant number of intellectuals no workers or soldiers took any part in it. On December 13 the electoral committee was dismissed. The Bolsheviks launched a wide campaign explaining the issues involved. On December 14 Lenin addressed a meeting of the A.R.C.E.C. on the question of the Constituent Assembly. He said: "We are told to convoke the Constituent Assembly as planned. No fear! It was planned against the people. We made the revolution in order to be guaranteed that the Constituent Assembly would not be used against the people.... Let the people know that the Constituent Assembly will not be convened the way Kerensky wanted it. We have introduced the right of recall, and the Constituent Assembly will not be what the bourgeoisie have planned it to be. With the assembly only a few days off, the bourgeoisie are organizing civil war, increasing sabotage, and jeopardizing the truce. We shall not let ourselves be deceived by formal slogans. They want to sit in the Constituent Assembly and organize civil wars at the same time." (At that time, in the south, near Rostov-on-Don, sanguinary fighting, organized by General Kaledin, was in progress.N.K.) "...We shall tell the truth to the people. We shall tell the people that its interests are above those of a democratic institution. We should not go back to the old prejudices under which the interests of the people are subservient to formal democratism. The Cadets shout: 'All power to the Constituent Assembly,' but actually they mean 'All power to Kaledin.' We must tell that to the people, and the people will approve of us." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 316, 317-18.)

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