Constitutional Illusions



The first Provisional Government promised to convene a Constituent Assembly. It considered that its main job was to prepare the country for a Constituent Assembly. The second Provisional Government fixed September 30 for convening a Constituent Assembly. The third Provisional Government, after July 4, solemnly reaffirmed that date.

Nevertheless, the chances are a hundred to one against the Constituent Assembly being convened on that date. And even if it is, the chances are again a hundred to one that it will be as impotent and useless as was the First Duma—until a second revolution triumphs in Russia. To appreciate this, you only have to detach yourself for a moment from the present hubbub of empty phrases, promises and petty doings which fuddles your thinking, and take a look at the main thing, at what determines everything in public life—the class struggle.

It is clear that the bourgeoisie in Russia have become very closely tied up with the landowners. This is shown by the whole press, the elections, the entire policy of the Cadet Party and the parties to the right of it, and by speeches made at “congresses” of “interested” persons. The bourgeoisie understand perfectly what the petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionary and “Left” Menshevik windbags can not understand, namely, that private landownership in Russia cannot be abolished, and this without compensation, except by carrying through a gigantic economic revolution, by bringing the banks under popular control, by nationalising the syndicates and adopting the most ruthless revolutionary measures against capital. The bourgeoisie under stand that perfectly. At the same time, however, they must know, see and feel that the vast majority of peasants in Russia will now be much more to the left than Chernov as well as declaring for confiscation of the landed estates. For the bourgeoisie know better than we do, both as to how many partial concessions were made them by Chernov, say, from May 6 to July 2, over delaying and curtailing the various peasant demands, and as to how much effort it took the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries (Chernov, believe it or not, is regarded as a “centre” man by the Socialist-Revolutionaries!) at the Peasant Congress and on the Executive Committee of the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies to “reassure” the peasants and feed them on promises.

The big bourgeoisie differ from the petty bourgeoisie in that they have learned, from their economic and political experience, the conditions under which “order” (i.e., keeping down the people) can be preserved under capitalism. The bourgeoisie are businessmen, people who make big commercial transactions and are accustomed to getting down even to political matters in a strictly business-like manner. They take the bull by the horns rather than putting their trust in words.

The Constituent Assembly in Russia today will yield a majority to peasants who are more to the left than the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The bourgeoisie know this and therefore are bound to put up a tremendous resistance to an early convocation. With a Constituent Assembly convened, it will be impossible, or exceedingly difficult, to carry on the imperialist war in the spirit of the secret treaties concluded by Nicholas II, or to defend the landed estates or the payment of compensation for them. The war will not wait. The class struggle will not wait. This was evident enough even in the brief span from February 28 to April 21.

From the very beginning of the revolution there have been two views on the Constituent Assembly. The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, completely swayed by constitutional illusions, viewed the matter with the credulity of the petty bourgeoisie who will not hear of the class struggle: the Constituent Assembly has been proclaimed, there will be a Constituent Assembly and that’s all there is to it! Everything else is of the devil’s making. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks said: only the growing strength and authority of the Soviets can guarantee the convocation and success of the Constituent Assembly. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries laid emphasis on the act of law: the proclamation, the promise, the declaration to call a Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks laid emphasis on the class struggle: if the Soviets were to win, the Constituent Assembly would be certain to meet; if not, there would be no such certainty.

That is exactly what happened. The bourgeoisie have all along been waging both in the open and under cover a continuous and relentless struggle against calling a Constituent Assembly. This struggle was prompted by a desire to delay its convocation until after the war. It expressed itself in the fact that several times they postponed the date of convocation. When, after June 18, or more than a month after the formation of the coalition Cabinet, the convocation date was at last set, a Moscow bourgeois paper declared this had been done under the pressure of Bolshevik propaganda. Pravda has published an exact quotation from that paper.

After July 4, when the servility and timidity of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks had led to the “victory” of the counter-revolution, a brief but highly significant phrase—the “impossibly early” convocation of a Constituent Assembly!!—slipped into Rech. And on July 16, an item appeared in Volya Naroda and Russkaya Volya, saying that the Cadets insisted on postponing the convocation of the Constituent Assembly under the pretext that it was “impossible” to convene it at such “short” notice, and adding that the Menshevik Tsereteli, a lackey of the counter-revolution, had consented to its postponement until November 20!

Undoubtedly, this item slipped in against the will of the bourgeoisie who cannot benefit from such “revelations”. But murder will out. The counter-revolutionaries, letting themselves go after July 4, blurted out the truth. The very first seizure of power by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie after July 4 was immediately followed by a measure (a very serious measure) against calling a Constituent Assembly.

That is a fact. And that fact reveals the utter futility of constitutional illusions. Unless a new revolution takes place in Russia, unless the power of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie (primarily the Cadets) is overthrown, and unless the people withdraw their trust from the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties, parties compromising with the bourgeoisie, the Constituent Assembly will either never meet, or else will be just a “Frankfurt talking shop”, [3] an impotent and worthless assembly of petty bourgeois people frightened to death by the war and the prospect of the bourgeoisie “boycotting the government”, and helplessly torn between frantic efforts to rule without the bourgeoisie and the fear of getting along without them.

The Constituent Assembly issue is subordinate to that of the course and outcome of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Some time ago, Rabochaya Gazeta blurted out the remark that the Constituent Assembly would be a Convention. This is an example of the empty, wretched and contemptible bragging of our Menshevik lackeys of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. If it is not to be a “Frankfurt talking shop” or a First Duma, if it is to be a Convention, it must have the courage, the capacity and the strength to strike merciless blows at the counter revolutionaries instead of compromising with them. For this purpose power must be in the hands of the most advanced, most determined and most revolutionary class of today. For this purpose that class must be supported by the whole mass of the urban and rural poor (the semi-proletarians). For this purpose the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, i.e., primarily the Cadets and the high-ranking army officers, must. be dealt with mercilessly. These are the real, the class, the material conditions necessary for a Convention. You have only to list these conditions in a precise and clear way to understand the stupidity of Rabochaya Gazeta’s bragging and the utter foolishness of the constitutional illusions of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks regarding a Constituent Assembly in Russia today.