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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX entury

Krupskaya's Reminiscences of Lenin

The Constituent Assembly was to be opened by Yakov Sverdlov.

The sitting opened at 4 p.m. On his way to the hall Ilyich reminded himself that he had left his revolver in his overcoat pocket. He went back for it, but the revolver wasn't there, although no strangers had entered the apartment. Obviously one of the guards had removed it. Ilyich rebuked Dybenko for the lack of discipline among the guards. Dybenko was very upset. When Ilyich came back from the meeting hall Dybenko handed him his revolver, which the guard had returned.

Sverdlov was a bit late, and the Constituent Assembly decided to have its session opened by its eldest member Shvetsov, a Socialist-Revolutionary. The latter had got up on the platform and started maundering, when Sverdlov came hurrying in. He went up to the speaker's desk, took the bell away from Shvetsov, pushed him aside, and announced in his deep loud voice that the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies had authorized him to open the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Then, on behalf of the C.E.C. he read out the text of the Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited Peoples written by Lenin and edited by him in cooperation with Stalin and Bukharin, the text of which had been published in Pravda the day before. The Declaration had been adopted by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee together with a ruling that "any attempt on the part of any person or institution whatsoever to assume one or another function of state power will be regarded as a counter-revolutionary act. Any such attempt will be suppressed by the Soviet Government by every means at its disposal, including the use of armed force." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 389.)

The Declaration announced that "Russia is hereby declared a Republic of Soviets of Workers,' Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. All power centrally and locally belongs to the Soviets.... The Soviet Russian Republic shall be constituted on the basis of a free union of free nations as a federation of Soviet National Republics." It approved the laws passed by the Second Congress of Soviets. The decisions adopted by the Council of People's Commissars were to have been endorsed by the Constituent Assembly. "While supporting the Soviet Government and the decrees of the Council of People's Commissars, the Constituent Assembly considers its tasks completed with the establishment of the fundamental bases for a socialist remodelling of society." (Ibid., pp. 385, 387.)

The Right wing of the Constituent Assembly had quite different ideas concerning the activities of the Assembly, which, they believed, would do nothing less than take all the power into its hands. The Right Socialist-Revolutionaries were in the majority. They nominated Chernov Chairman of the Assembly, while the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries nominated Spiridonova. Chernov received 244 votes, Spiridonova151.

The Bolsheviks voted for Spiridonova because the issue at stake was whether the Constituent Assembly would vote for the Soviet power or not. The Left Socialist-Revolutionaries at the time sided with the Bolsheviks, and the nomination of Spiridonova was calculated to bring home to the peasantry the fact that the working class aimed at a close alliance with the peasantry, that the Bolsheviks stood for such an alliance. The propaganda value of Spiridonova's nomination was therefore an important factor.

After the election of the chairman (Chernov), the proceedings were opened. Chernov, on behalf of the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, spoke on the land question. His words were greeted with a shout from the Left benches: "Long live the Soviets, who have given the peasants the land!" Bukharin, who took the floor after Chernov, submitted a motion for the Declaration of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee to be considered first. The first thing that had to be decided was who the Assembly stood for"Kaledin, the cadets, the factory owners, the merchants, the directors of the discount banks, or the grey army coats, the workers, soldiers and sailors?" Tsereteli spoke on behalf of the Mensheviks. He attacked the Bolsheviks, trotted out the bogy of civil war, and suggested that all the power be taken over by the Constituent Assembly.

Many years have passed since then. We have seen how the Social-Democrats of Germany and other capitalist countries, using the same old methods of soft-soaping, the scare of civil war, and all kinds of promises, have betrayed the working class and paved the way to power for the fascists, those brutal thugs and bestial champions of the perishing class of landowners and capitalists, who stand in mortal fear of the Communists and preach civil peace by word while helping the landowners and capitalists by deed to arrogantly exploit the working people and plunge them into another world war more devastating than the first.

The Bolsheviks, however, saw clearly where conciliation with the Right S.-R.'s and the Mensheviks led to. Addressing himself to the Right S.-R.'s and Mensheviks, Skvortsov said: "It is all over between us. We shall see the October Revolution against the bourgeoisie through to the end. You and we are on different sides of the barricades."

Vladimir Ilyich did not speak. He sat on the platform steps, smiling ironically, joking and jotting down notes. He obviously felt out of it all. Among his papers is the beginning of an article in which he describes his impressions of that meeting of the Constituent Assembly: "A tiresome, painful, dreary day in the elegant rooms of the Taurida Palace, whose very appearance differs from that of Smolny as elegant but lifeless bourgeois parliamentarism differs from the proletarian, simple Soviet apparatus, which, though in many ways still disorderly and unfinished, is alive and vital." "After the real live Soviet work among the workers and peasants who are engaged in the real job of felling the forest and grubbing up by the roots landlord and capitalist exploitation, I suddenly found myself transported to a 'strange world' among visitors from the other world, from the camp of the bourgeoisie and its voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious followers, hangers-on, servants and defenders. From a world of struggle of the working masses and their Soviet organization against exploitation to a world of sweetish phrases, smooth empty declarations, promises and promises based as before on conciliation with the capitalists." (Works, Vol. 26, pp. 393, 392.)

Only 146 deputies voted in favour of discussing the Declaration of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, with 247 against. The Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries demanded an adjournment. The Bolshevik group of the Assembly met to discuss their further course of action. It was decided not to return to the meeting hall. Raskolnikov and Lobov were sent there to announce that the Bolsheviks were quitting the Assembly, and to state the reasons why. The group also decided not to dismiss the Assembly, but give it a chance to see the session through. It lasted until 4.40 a.m. on January 6, after which it broke up. The next day the All-Russian Central Executive Committee decreed that the Constituent Assembly was to be dissolved. No more meetings of the Assembly were held.

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly was received by the masses with passive indifference. Its prestige stood very low and its dismissal caused no stir whatever. A stumbling block to further work had been removed from the path. A check had been put to all conciliatory moods.

While this stumbling block to progress had been removed, the more formidable task of extricating the country from the hole of imperialist war in which it was floundering still remained to be tackled.

On November 8, the Second Congress of Soviets adopted the Decree on Peace. The early days of the Soviet power's existence had passed in military strugglewith the advancing troops of Kerensky and the rebel cadets-and in a fight with conciliatory vacillations within the Central Committee of the Party. On November 20 General Dukhonin, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, was ordered to suspend hostilities and begin negotiations for an armistice with the Central Powers. On November 22, when a telephone conversation with General Dukhonin made it clear that he was sabotaging the order of the Council of People's Commissars, he was dismissed and Krylenko was appointed Supreme Commander-in-Chief in his stead. Later in the day Vladimir Ilyich drew up a radio message to all regimental, divisional, corps, army and other committees, to all soldiers of the revolutionary army and sailors of the revolutionary fleet, calling upon them to take matters into their own hands. His chief hope was the soldier mass, not the generals.

"Soldiers!" ran the message. "The cause of peace is in your hands! Do not allow the counter-revolutionary generals to frustrate the great cause of peace, surround them by a guard in order to avert acts of summary justice unworthy of a revolutionary army and to prevent these generals from evading the trial that awaits them. Maintain the strictest revolutionary and military order.

"Let the regiments at the front immediately elect plenipotentiaries to start formal negotiations for an armistice with the enemy.

"The Council of People's Commissars empowers you to do so.

"Keep us informed in every possible way of every step in the negotiations. The Council of People's Commissars is alone empowered to sign the final treaty of armistice.

"Soldiers, the cause of peace is in your hands! Vigilance, restraint and energy, and the cause of peace will triumph!

"In the name of the Government of the Russian Republic,

V. Ulyanov (Lenin),
Chairman of the Council of
People's Commissars
N. Krylenko, People's Commissar of War and
Supreme Commander." (Works,
Vol. 26, p. 280.)

On November 21, the Soviet Government submitted the Decree on Peace to the representatives of the Entente in Russia for their consideration.

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