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The Great October Revolution: Soviet and Constituent Assembly in political duel

Farooque Chowdhury

A decisive political fight between two powers – the exploited and the exploiters – engulfed the path of the Great October Revolution following the victory of the Soviets in October as the revolution changed class equation/array of class power. A new vista for the working people was unfolding.  

Kerensky’s expectation
After the February Revolution, the Soviets and the Provisional Government (PG) were in a duel for power. But, the PG melted away following the Soviets’ October-victory. Before to that, writes George Buchanan, the British ambassador to Russia, the “Duma […] gradually came to be regarded as an archaic institution, till it finally disappeared from the scene.” (My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, vol. II, Cassell and Company, Limited, London, New York, Toronto, Melbourne, 1923) So, there was neither the PG nor the duma. And, the Soviet didn’t experience a “natural death”, which was, according to Buchanan, expected by Kerensky.

The political struggle, determining in nature at this moment of the revolution, manifested in the workings of the Soviet and of the Constituent Assembly (CA) as the former was representing the workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors while the later with the ulterior motive of regaining lost power and privileges of the exploiting classes and imperialists was refusing to recognize the people power, and, with that purpose, was maneuvering violently to demolish the newly emerged Soviet power. And, “the clash between Soviet power and the Constituent Assembly result[ed] from the entire course of the Russian revolution.” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 26, p. 437, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1972; henceforth LCW) This “entire course of the Russian revolution” is ignored/not recognized by a group of scholars engaged with denouncing the revolution. They either don’t understand its meaning or lie about it. They also fail to read and deny to recognize the people-factor, a cornerstone of the revolution: people’s aspiration and interest, and manifestation of these, people’s power, and the legitimization people produce through course of revolution. These scholars loves to forget the fact that monarchs and emperors – chief bandits in banditdom, gangs of lords and knights – petty thieves, night watchers employed by thiefdom, crowns chief bandits put on their heads, even uniform and color of uniform of gendarmes engaged by banditrydom need legitimization, which these living and dead elements derive from people through deception.   The awakened people in Russia were not powerless, or were not keeping its power idle at this moment of the revolution: “the people and the army are but one, and that in the event of revolution only a small portion of army can be counted on to defend the dynasty.” (George Buchanan, op. cit.) Don’t these scholars like to trust their trusted diplomat’s finding? Don’t these scholars question: How it – “only a small portion of army can be counted on to defend the dynasty” – happens? What’s the organism that makes it happen? And, doesn’t the organism part of the process that produces legitimization?     

The October Revolution “aroused desperate resistance of the exploiters”. (LCW, 26:435) The exploiters’ resistance to the revolution was evident in the CA, and in political incidents, initiated by the imperialist-bourgeois-monarchist axis, preceding inauguration of the CA. This “resistance of the exploiters” is also ignored/not mentioned by that group of scholars – a bourgeois “scholarly” quest for facts. By this act befitting to the scholars in the service of the bourgeoisie – a denial of political machinations by the exploiters – these scholars perform a single duty: defend the exploiters. 

However, the Soviets were having strong ground. “By October, 20 million people had organized in the soviets, [while], in the summer of 1917, the soviets had a membership of 9–10 million people. The revolution was driven by the social self-organization of these millions of tortured people disillusioned by the war — especially in the workers’, armed, and peasant soviets, military and revolutionary committees, factory and plant committees, the professional and armed self-defense organizations. All were loosely structured for peoples’ mobilization, production, land distribution, and wielding of power, and all accomplished through a great deal of spontaneity and invention. The land decree accepted at the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets was also such an original product. It simultaneously expressed the desire of the peasants for land, and for social equality.” (Tamás Krausz, “One Hundred Years, One Hundred Messages”, Monthly Review, July 1, 2017)

“[B]y autumn 1917 the Bolsheviks held a majority in virtually every soviet.” (ibid.)

That group of scholars declines to identify the facts mentioned above: “The revolution was driven by the social self-organization of these millions of tortured people”, “workers’ […] and peasant soviets, military and revolutionary committees, factory and plant committees, the professional and armed self-defense organizations”, “loosely structured for peoples’ mobilization, production, land distribution, and wielding of power”. Ignoring these facts lead to distorted interpretation of the revolution – its spirit and its historical responsibilities and duties – although comprehending these helps understand the character/type of the revolution, the class forces the revolution was unleashing and representing, the class forces the revolution was encountering, and the measures required to encounter those forces. The entire scene charged with class conflict is either seen with a naïve view totally unaware of political fight between the exploited and the exploiters or is seen with the eyes of the exploiters, their logic, their arguments, their interests, and thus, the October Revolution, its achievements, and the duties it performed, the hostile class forces it had to encounter, the shackle it tore down are ignored. A faithful duty by a group of obligated servants, indeed!    

Dire situation
The fight was being waged against the backdrop of a “critical food situation and the threat of famine caused by the profiteering and sabotage of the capitalists and officials, as well as by the general economic ruin”. (LCW, 26:391)

There was “a complete breakdown of the system of production. Just after the February Revolution, a whole series of production plants shut down amid the crisis. ‘The decrease in production and the mass closure of plants,’ one scholar has written [ref. is made to D O Churakov, “Revolutsia i sotsialno-ekonomicheskoe polozhenie rabochih (konyets 1917–1918)”, in Sorokin, ed., Oktyabr 1917, 213], ‘occurred right after February. [….] [There was] mass closure of private companies. […] By October, industrial production had fallen by 40 percent compared to the previous year, 1916.’ [….] Some companies slashed workers’ wages to half of pre-war levels. [….] Despite all the efforts of the ‘changing Soviet regime,’ the declining production, famine, and unemployment remained rampant in the years after 1917. The pillaging of food stocks was common, and many city-dwellers were driven to the countryside by the looting.” (Tamás Krausz, op. cit.)

The World War the imperialists were spearheading was another part of the backdrop. The revolution was facing a dire situation: There was the war, the onslaught of the imperialists; there were the war-weary soldiers and the hungry and tired working population, who were made cannon fodder by the blood-thirsty imperialists; there was the question of demobilization of armed forces. The terrible situation is evident from the following fact:
On December 30, 1917 at a conference of delegates to the Army Congress on the Demobilization of the Army Lenin raised 10 questions, two of which were: “(4) Would our army be capable, from the military point, of resisting a German offensive […]? If not, when would our army be in a position to resist a German offensive”; and, “(5) In the event of a swift German advance, could our army retire in good order and preserve its artillery, and if so, could the Germans’ advance into the heart of Russia be held up for long?” (LCW, 26:395)

The questions reflect the desperate situation the proletariat was facing while it was establishing its political power.

Two questions
“Two questions [took] precedence over all other political questions – the question of bread and the question of peace. The imperialist war, the war between the biggest and richest banking firms, Britain and Germany, that is being waged for world domination […] ruined all countries, exhausted all peoples, and confronted mankind with the alternative – either sacrifice all civilization and perish or throw off the capitalist yoke in the revolutionary way”. (LCW, 26:386)

A group of theoreticians ignore the reality: “the real conditions of the class struggle and civil war” (LCW, 26:378) With this “knowledge and practice”, they distort the analysis of the revolution. They forget that no revolution can be evaluated by ignoring the “real conditions of […] class struggle”.

There was the urgent need to “normalize the country’s economic life immediately and comprehensively, stopping at nothing and acting in the most revolutionary manner”. (LCW, 26:391)

This reality overwhelmed the working classes in Russia while the exploiting classes were striving with the questions related to a constituent assembly.

The CA
The Bolsheviks were calling for the CA-election since long; and, on the opposite, the PG, controlled by the bourgeoisie, continued withholding the CA election.   

Calling for the CA was officially recognized as the main task of the PG. In March, the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet set up a committee on CA. Preparatory work for the CA elections involved all parties, associations, and unions of that time. Work over the draft of the Statute of Elections to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly was completed in August 1917. On November 12 (25), 13 (26) and 14 (27), 1917, elections, based on universal suffrage, to the CA were launched. (“Elections to the Constituent Assembly began 25 November 1917”, Presidential Library, St. Petersburg, Russia)

“[M]ore than thirty parties […] vied [in the election], albeit only five of those could be considered major political parties – the […] Bolsheviks, the […] Mensheviks, the Constitutional Democrats [Cadets/Kadets], the Social Revolutionaries [SR], and the rather nationalistic Ukrainian Social Revolutionary Party [USR].” (William A Dando, “A Map of the Election to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917”, Slavic Review, vol. 25, issue 2, June 1966)

“The machinery for handling the election was in the hands of commissions appointed by the [PG] before its fall, and naturally the Bolsheviks contested the authority of these commissions.” (ibid.)

In the voting, according to 67 electoral districts, 44, 433, 309 people took part. The results of the elections vary in different sources. Votes received by the SRs (right and left) in Russia’s regions ranged from 39.5 % to 45.5 %. Taking into account SRs and close associations of national regions this percentage rose up to 58 %. In the second place were the Bolsheviks with votes varying from 22.5 % to 25 %. (“Elections to the Constituent Assembly began 25 November 1917”, op. cit.)

The biggest success the Bolsheviks achieved during the elections in two capitals and industrial provinces (in Petrograd — 45 % vs. 16 % of SRs while in Moscow — 56 % vs. 25 %). The Mensheviks got only from 1.8 % - 3.2 % votes. Taking into account political organizations of Russian and national regions close to the Mensheviks this percentage went up to 4.7 %. The Cadets went by 4.5 % to 5.6 % votes. All right political organizations together with the Cadets had the support ranging from 13 % to 17 % votes. (ibid.)

In Petrograd, about 930,000 people voted; and among them 45% voted for the Bolsheviks, 27% for the SRs and 17% for the Cadets. The Bolshevik vote increased by 24%, the SR vote by 40%, the Cadet vote by 5%, and the Menshevik vote 2%. (A M Kulegin, “Constituent Assembly, All-Russian”, Saint Petersburg Encyclopedia, Committee of Culture of St. Petersburg, Peter the Great Institute)

Dissecting the votes
Oliver Henry Radkey, a scholar with an anti-Bolshevik bias, presents an analysis of the voting in the election in his The Election to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917 (Harvard University Press, Mass., 1950). Radkey based is study on investigations by the SR statistician Sviatitski, by Lenin, and, in the Archives of the October Revolution. Radkey also used other study materials from libraries in Harvard, Moscow, Paris, Prague and Stanford. Radkey’s study show the distribution of political strength in areas not previously accounted for. The facts found in the study, sponsored by professor Karpovich of Harvard, an émigré and an old member of the Right SR, support Lenin’s analysis of the CA.

Radkey writes about Lenin’s analysis:
“He [Lenin] conscientiously sought in the figures the lessons they contained for his party, whether flattering or otherwise, and his deductions constitute a thorough and penetrating analysis of the results.”
About the study by Radkey, Saul Berg (penname of Saul Mendelson) writes in “The Constituent Assembly in Russia, New Study Supports Bolshevik Analysis” (New International, vol. 16 no. 6, November-December 1950): “[A]n exceptionally thorough study of the 1917 election for the Russian Constituent Assembly.”

Referring the study Saul Berg writes:
“In the election […] the Bolsheviks received 9,844,637 votes and the SRs, […] 15,848,004 votes, out of a total of 41,686,876. Thus the Bolsheviks, in an election held shortly after they had led the seizure of power, obtained only 23 per cent of the total vote. […P]arties [claiming] to be socialist – […] Bolsheviks, SRs, Mensheviks, [USRs], etc. – obtained altogether over 80 per cent of the vote, despite the presence of plenty of bourgeois lists to choose from!

“Thus the election demonstrated the overwhelming desire of the worker, soldier and peasant masses for a basic social change, but equally demonstrated that in Russia as a whole the Bolshevik Party did not by itself have majority support. But although the peasants were reluctant to transfer their allegiance away from their traditional party, the SRs, they were not reluctant about supporting that left wing of their party which in Petrograd, for example, had participated in the seizure of power; and was everywhere, in the local soviets, advocating support of the new Soviet power.

“The SR party was in the process of splitting at the time the elections took place and Bolsheviks have always pointed to the Congress of Peasant Soviets, meeting several weeks after the [CA] elections and assembling representatives of hundreds of local soviets, as an indication of the way the SRs actually divided. At this Congress the small Bolshevik Minority established collaboration with a Left SR majority that voted to support the Soviet power. The Right SRs were snowed under in two weeks of democratic discussion. The evidence of the Peasant Congress has always been accompanied by the Bolshevik contention that the SR lists for the [CA] elections, being made up months in advance, in view of geographical necessities, were overloaded with the old public figures of the Party, mostly in the right-wing, and that, therefore, the SR deputies elected to the [CA] on these united lists were not representative of the views of the peasant voters. In sum, the Bolsheviks contended that ‘if the SR split had taken place in time for separate Left and Right lists to campaign throughout the country, the [CA] would have had a majority coalition of Bolsheviks and Left SRs. And it is true that if we divide the sixteen million SR votes in these elections in the same proportions as the Left and Right SRs divided at the Peasant Congress (about two to one in favor of the Left), the vote of Bolsheviks plus Left SRs would come to 49 per cent of the total, which, in view of scattered votes and the existence of a few additional small pro-Soviet groups, would give the Soviet coalition an easy majority.

“It is therefore gratifying to find that Radkey endorses fully the notion of the unrepresentative character of the SR lists (p.72):
“‘The election, therefore, does not measure the strength of this element [the Left SRs – S.B.]. The lists were drawn up long before the schism occurred; they were top-heavy with older party workers whose radicalism had abated by 1917. The people voted indiscriminately for the SR label ... The leftward current was doubtless stronger everywhere on November 12 than when the lists had been drawn up ...’ The writer’s judgments are based on his unpublished dissertation, The Party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Russian Revolution of 1917 (Harvard University, 1939).” [emphasis in the original]

Saul Berg writes:
“Perhaps equal in interest to students of the Russian Revolution is Radkey’s breakdown of the election results in the various provinces and in various local situations, because of the light it sheds on the tempo of revolutionary development and on the problems involved a month before the election in the armed insurrection spearheaded by the Petrograd Soviet. In the immediate sense the revolution was made by two forces – the workers and the soldiers. The soldiers themselves, like the bulk of the Russian people, were peasants – but peasants with a speeded-up revolutionary education through their disgust with the war and their contact with the class-conscious urban proletariat. The Bolsheviks never claimed that they needed a sanctified 51 per cent counting of noses in the whole vast, chaotic country to have the right to overthrow the entirely undemocratic hand-picked [PG] of Kerensky. Furthermore, they faced the danger that if they did not act in October to satisfy the urgent pressure of the workers and soldiers, and postponed the insurrection until their agitation had penetrated deeper into the countryside, the revolutionary tide in the advanced centers would bog down in, demoralization and the insurrection would become impossible. The decision of the Petrograd Soviet to take power, therefore, meant that the workers and the advanced peasants (the soldiers) would take the lead in the nation and complete the development of the rest of the peasantry by actually carrying out in life the agrarian reform that the Right SRs had always promised, but never executed.” [emphasis in the original]

Saul Berg writes:
“In Radkey’s figures can be discerned the confirmation of this whole picture with astonishing consistency:
“Moscow and Petrograd – In each case the Bolsheviks received almost 50 per cent, and the much smaller Left SRs enough to give the two parties combined a majority. The Right SRs and Mensheviks in these centers of the whole struggle are naturally almost extinguished, the whole opposition vote going to the bourgeois Kadets […].

“Rural provinces near Moscow and Petrograd – Absolute majority for the Bolsheviks alone since these provinces are near enough for the workers’ and soldiers’ agitators to have canvassed them thoroughly. [….] The Bolsheviks received an overwhelming majority on the Northern and Western Fronts and in the Baltic Fleet. On the Southwestern and Rumanian Fronts and in the Black Sea they were only a substantial minority [….] if we omit Georgia, the Mensheviks received 2 per cent of the vote in all Russia! What a striking indication of the radical polarization of the population! Only five months before they had been the equal of the Bolsheviks in urban voting strength. 

“[….] Radkey gives a number of examples of the vote in SR strongholds in the ‘black earth’ region. In the town the garrison votes Bolshevik, the shopkeepers Kadet or Menshevik. In the nearby villages the peasants, though thousands of miles away from the center of events, vote Bolshevik because the garrison soldiers have reached them with their message. As you travel farther away from the town, the SRs dominate the villages. In either case the peasant was voting for the same thing – the agrarian revolution.

“The sweep of the revolution was also demonstrated by the total lack of influence of the Orthodox Church. Everywhere votes for Orthodox lists were almost nil. Even more strikingly, in remote regions of the Urals where the Old Believer sects were strong, the majority of the peasants voted SR or Bolshevik and boycotted the Old Believer lists, despite their fanatical religious attachment to these sects.” [emphasis in the original]

Saul Berg writes while discussing the study by Radkey:
“One thing that does not occur to Radkey in his study is that the Bolsheviks never recognized the validity of the will of an assembly in which a majority was based on the inclusion of nationality groups that desired independence. [….] Therefore, […] an insurrection of the Russian masses could not be proved a minority coup d’état by adding to the conservative Russian minority the votes received by nationalist parties in the Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, etc. [….]

“However, we have indicated that the Bolsheviks and Left SRs probably had the support of a majority of the entire electorate, Russian and non-Russian. If one merely eliminates predominantly non-Russian regions, leaving in only the results on Russian areas, including scattered non-Russian minorities within these areas, one finds that the Bolsheviks by themselves now have 26 per cent of the total vote and that our theoretical Bolshevik-Left SR combined total, calculated the same way as previously, rises from 49 per cent to 57 per cent! In addition, there were two national minority areas, those of the Letts and of the White Russians, where the Bolsheviks had an absolute majority, so that these two peoples would of their own choice have joined and further strengthened the Soviet regime.

“On the basis of Radkey’s statistical studies it will now appear totally ludicrous if anti-Bolsheviks continue to claim that the Soviet government of January 1918, based democratically on locally elected soldiers, workers and peasants soviets, which were multi-party in composition, should have considered the [CA] that then convened, with its majority combination of Right SRs who no longer represented anyone and minority nationality representatives who wanted independence, as entitled to exclusive sovereignty, partial sovereignty, or any consideration whatever other than the treatment they received. A body that meant nothing laid claim to sovereignty over the Russian people – it could only be dispersed. Actually, despite occasional phrases about Bolshevik ‘despotism’, Radkey can’t help admitting the conclusion his studies point to (p.2):
“‘Lenin dissolved the [CA] by force ... Of more fateful significance was the fact that while the democratic parties heaped opprobrium upon him for this act of despotism, their following showed little inclination to defend an institution which the Russian people had ceased to regard as necessary to the fulfilment of its cherished desires.’”

Does anyone differ with the dissection of the votes cited above? The group denouncing the October Revolution never enters into such dissection. The group makes sweeping comments without looking into facts. It’s an amazing fraud practice! The dupery leads the group to ignore the balance of class forces in Russia, and changes that were going on in the balance, which are essential to evaluate the revolution, and to determine rationality and requirements of the measures taken. Thus, the group dives into a well filled with lies and deceptive narration.   

An old balance of force
At that time, the CA was “the result of the balance of forces obtaining before the Great October Revolution. The […] counter-revolutionary majority of the [CA] elected on outdated party lists, [was] a reflection of an earlier period of the revolution and [was] trying to throw up a roadblock in the way of the workers’ and peasants’ movement.” (LCW, 26:429)

Looking at the composition of the CA helps perceive the reality centering the CA: “[T]he Party of Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, the party of Kerensky, Avksentyev and Chernov, obtained majority in the [CA]”. (LCW, 26:435) This CA was incapable of fulfilling the requirements of the exploited people’s emancipation.  

“The political significance of the election to the [CA] is difficult to ascertain since the Assembly was partly condemned by a large segment of the Russian people as not being really necessary to fulfill their desires in this era of revolutionary development.” (William A Dando, op. cit.)

So, one finds an interesting, obviously with ulterior motive, development: a new reactionary organization, a new reactionary slogan.

“[T]he Union for the Protection of the Constituent Assembly was created on November 23 (December 6) 1917, and the slogan ‘All power to the Constituent Assembly’ was advanced to unite anti-Bolshevik forces.” (A M Kulegin, op.cit.)

However, steps to begin CA session were initiated. “On November 26 (December 9) 1917, the Soviet of People’s Commissars passed a decree that permitted the first meeting of the CA to take place as soon as more than 400 deputies (half of the entire assembly) had arrived in Petrograd. [….] The Guards showed no resistance [while] about 60 deputies entered the palace, but, for lack of a quorum, [the deputies] declared themselves a private meeting and sat in the White Hall for some hours. Later on the same day, the Soviet of People’s Commissars passed a decree proclaiming that the Cadets were enemies of the people and arrested its leaders. On December 20, 1917 (January 2, 1918), a decision was made to open the CA on January 5 (18) 1918. The Aurora cruiser company and a detachment of sailors from the Baltic Fleet were sent to protect the area of the Tauride Palace [the place of session of the CA]. Barrier troops were arranged at the approaches of the Tauride and Smolny Palaces. On January 4 (17), 1918, the Petrograd Soviet called upon workers and soldiers to keep away from counterrevolutionary demonstrations […] (ibid.)

“The CA started work at 16:00 on January 5 (18) 1918, and was attended by about 410 of 715 deputies. Centrist SRs held the majority, while Bolsheviks and left-wing SRs held 155 seats [38.5%]. [V M Chernov, leader of the SR party, was elected the Chairman.] The majority of the CA refused to discuss the Working and Exploited People’s Declaration of Rights (brought forth by Sverdlov, chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee) and similarly refused to validate decrees put forth by the Soviet of the People’s Commissars. The Bolshevik group responded by leaving the meeting hall. Left wing Socialist-Revolutionaries followed the Bolsheviks when right wing groups refused to vote on the Soviet government’s policy. The rest of the deputies, though without a quorum, passed acts proclaiming Russia a federative democratic republic. The meeting lasted about 13 hours and was closed at 04:40 [another account says, it was 5 a.m.] on January 6 (19), 1918, as requested by the Commander of the Guard, A.G. Zheleznyakov, who claimed it was necessary to leave the hall since it was late and the Guard was tired. On the night of January 7 (20), 1918, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee passed a decree dissolving the CA. Opposition groups decided to move their meetings out of Petrograd, and some of them later established a Committee of Members of the [CA] in Samara.” (ibid.)

Lenin presents the same description:
“The vast majority of working Russia […] demanded that the [CA] should recognize the gains of the Great October Revolution, the Soviet decrees on land, peace and workers’ control, and above all the power of the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasant Deputies. The All Russia Central Executive Committee, fulfilling the will of the vast majority of the working classes of Russia, has proposed that the [CA] should declare itself bound by the will. However, the majority of the [CA] – in line with the pretensions of the bourgeoisie, has rejected the proposal, thereby challenging the whole of working Russia.” (LCW, 26:429)

During a day-long debate it was found that “the Party of the Right [SR…] decided to fight against the power of the workers’, peasants’ and Soldiers’ Soviets, against the socialist measures, the transfer of lands and all implements to the peasants without compensation, the nationalization of banks, and the repudiation of the state debt.” (LCW, 26:429-30)

At the beginning of session, the CA “refused to discuss the […] proposal of the supreme organ of Soviet power, the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, to recognize the program of Soviet power, to recognize the Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People, to recognize the October Revolution and Soviet power.” (LCW, 26:435)

The Bolshevik group at the CA withdrew from the CA after making a statement on the CA’s counter-revolutionary attitude and measures. The Bolshevik group left it “to Soviet power to take the final decision on the attitude to the counter-revolutionary section of the [CA].” (LCW, 26:430)

It should be mentioned that the CA “was elected on the basis of electoral lists drawn up prior to the October Revolution, was an expression of the old relation of political forces, which existed when power was held by the compromisers and the Cadets. When the people at that time voted for the candidates of the [SR] Party, they were not in a position to choose between the Right [SR]s, the supporters of the bourgeoisie, and the Left [SR], the supporters of socialism. The [CA] was therefore bound to become an obstacle in the path of the October Revolution and Soviet power.” (LCW, 26:434-35) The scholars denouncing the October Revolution don’t like to tread the part the revolution charted – socialism – as that path has the power to demolish the property interests the scholars represent.  

“The counterrevolution’s other line of attack was to reorganize the [CA], to rein in the socialist revolution and restore the framework of private ownership. However, the barricade of a revolution usually only has two sides. This was especially true in Russia after 1917. The SR-dominated [CA] chose a different path, continuing down the road of bourgeois legitimacy. That the assembly lasted all of one day speaks volumes about its prospects […] The situation arising after the February Revolution, in which the so-called dual power of the bourgeois provisional government and the Soviets fought it out, was taken to a new level in the struggle by October 1917. The dissolution of the [CA], officially decreed by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, showed that the revolutionary regime did not recognize any power above it: ‘The revolutionary proletariat does not hand over power to the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie.’ The leading forces of Russian liberalism ended up in the camp of the White counterrevolution, a consequence of the specificities of Russian historical development.” (Tamás Krausz, op. cit.)

The Soviet had no option other than dissolving the CA as the CA was obstructing the Soviets’ efforts to move forward with the revolutionary program as implementation of the program was entrusted on the Soviets by the working classes.

On the night of January 19, 1918, the All-Russia Central Executive Committee in its meeting by a majority vote adopted the Decree on the Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Two votes went against while five abstained. (LCW, 26: note 158)

Dissolution of the CA was inevitable. It nullified its necessity by upholding the interests of the exploiting classes, against which the exploited were waging a life-and-death struggle. It was not possible for either of the contending class forces to move forward with the CA. 

“Events in the Siberian Urals and the Far East were the clearest indicators that if the Bolsheviks did not disperse the disorganized and weak forces of the [CA], Admiral Kolchak — who ‘incidentally’ liquidated the remains of the Assembly more radically than the Bolsheviks, by physically eradicating it — would have done so.” (Tamás Krausz, op. cit.)

“The October Revolution, by giving power to the Soviets, and through the Soviets to the working and exploited classes, aroused the desperate resistance of the exploiters”. (LCW, 26:435) This “desperate resistance of the exploiters” is regularly ignored/not cited by the scholars denouncing the October Revolution. But, do they ask themselves: What would have been appropriate for the exploited with its newly-won political power? Would it have been appropriate for the Soviet to surrender power to the CA, which had itself outlived, which was unwilling to carry forward the tasks necessary, which was trying to reimose rule of the exploiters? Would it have been appropriate for the Soviet to let the CA carry on the CA’s business – regain the power lost, and consolidate it? What would have happened to the demands for peace, bread and basket? Do the October Revolution-denouncing scholars think allowing the CA to reverse the historical steps already made would have been appropriate? Then, shall the group of scholars answer the question: Was there any need to organize the revolution if ears are to be lent to those scholars making sounds to defend the overthrown exploiting interests? Nah. A defiant proletariat would say nay to the private property-prone-scholars denouncing political actions of the exploited.        

Most of the Mensheviks were for cooperation with the liberal bourgeoisie and the CA. Could that Menshevik-path implement the tasks the revolution identified to carry on? Or, were the so-called liberal bourgeois liberal enough to allow the exploited people to smash the monarchist-bourgeois-imperialist property interest, allow the exploited to enjoy the rights the people required to have their democratic life, basically opposite to the “democracy” of the exploiters? Who shall answer “yes” to the questions?  

This “desperate resistance of the exploiters” is not told and taken into account by the group of scholars condemning the revolution. They just enter into the business of comparing words used by Marx as a general feature and the actions the Bolsheviks had to take in a specific historical reality. “Scholarship” of the Marx-“experts”, indeed!

Which system?
The revolution had to find out an appropriate answer to the question while it was in duel with the CA: Which system to be followed to achieve socialism? There is the bourgeois parliamentary system; and, to many scholars, the system appears as the only and universal form irrespective of aim and goals of classes. But, the attitude is erroneous, and is incompatible to reality. By that time, the working classes in Russia gained some experience.    

“The working classes learned by experience that the old bourgeois parliamentary system had outlived its purpose and was absolutely incompatible with the aim of achieving socialism, and that not national institutions, but only class institutions (Such as the Soviets) were capable of overcoming the resistance of the propertied classes and of laying the foundations of socialist society. To relinquish the sovereign power of the Soviets, to relinquish the Soviet Republic won by the people, for the sake of bourgeois parliamentary system and the [CA], would [have been] a step backwards and would cause the collapse of the October workers’ and peasants’ revolution.” (LCW, 26:435)

The Bolshevik and the Left SR groups were in overwhelming majority in the Soviets. The two groups enjoyed confidence of the workers and majority of the peasants. So, they had no option, but to withdraw from the CA. The Right SR and Menshevik groups were carrying on outside the CA a desperate struggle against the Soviet power, openly calling in the press for the overthrow of the Soviet power, defending saboteurs, calling to terrorism, which was begun by unidentified groups. The situation compelled the Central Executive Committee to dissolve the CA. (LCW, 26:435-36)

Significance of the Soviet is to be noted while discussing/dissecting the October Revolution. “The Revolution of 1917 was marked […] by the transformation of the bourgeois imperialist party into a republican party under the pressure of events, and […] by the emergence of democratic organizations, the Soviets [….]” (LCW, 26:437)

The Soviets were organized by the people in 1905. During that time its role and significance were not perceived by the reactionaries, but the socialists understood its significance, “something new and unprecedented in the history of world revolution. The Soviets, created solely by the initiative of the people, [were] a form of democracy without parallel in any other country of the world. [….] To hand over power to the [CA] would again be compromising with the malignant bourgeoisie. [….] [T]he slogan ‘All power to the Constituent Assembly’ conceal[ed] the slogan “Down with Soviet power”. (LCW, 26:437-40) The CA consistently “refused to recognize the power of the people”. (LCW, 26:441) The slogan “All power to the Constituent Assembly” was advanced to unite anti-Bolshevik forces. (A M Kulegin, op. cit.)

The Bolsheviks democratically achieved leadership in the Soviets. A look into changes in representation in the Soviets supports the claim. The Bolsheviks was for the revolutionary program of peace, bread and land while the CA was opposed to it.

Lenin explained the Soviets and the CA: The CA realized the highest form of democracy possible in a bourgeois republic while the Soviets were the only form ensuring an uninterrupted transition to Socialism.

Identifying significance of the political fight is essential for organizing a people’s democratic system, which aims to overthrow exploiters’ property relations.

Note: The article is the first section of part 7 of a series commemorating the Great October Revolution Centenary. Parts 1-6 and 8 of the series were originally carried by Countercurrents.org and Frontier, Kolkata.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.

Oct 3, 2018


Farooque Chowdhury [email protected]

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