After the October Revolution in 1917, the very first constitutional body to organize in Russia was the Constituent Assembly. One of the most popular demands to emerge from the Revolution, the Constituent Assembly is widely-regarded as the first democratically-elected legislative body in Russia. This is saying something, considering that eleven years prior, Russian rulers would not recognize a body of law that could not be overturned by their will and their will alone. The people craved a body of legislators who would represent them and their demands. Following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, a Provisional Government was created to stabilize the country and implement a range of civil and political liberties, as well as to establish the Constituent Assembly. But don’t get too carried away–this still is Revolutionary-era Russia we’re talking about.
Within the Formation and Program of the Provisional Government (March 2/15, 1917), an objective exists for the “[i]mmediate preparation for the calling of a Constituent Assembly, elected by universal and secret vote, which shall determine the form of government and draw up the Constitution for the country.” However, the Provisional Government decided it was best to defer the resolution of other basic issues until their elected Constituent Assembly could meet. Yet before the Constituent Assembly actually met for the first time, the Provisional Government had been overthrown. This was more evidence as to how shaky Russia really was, and it shed light onto the country’s crisis with its political authority.
The Russian Constituent Assembly, consisting of nearly seven hundred delegates, met for the first and only time on January 5-6, 1918 for around 13 hours in the Tauride Palace in modern-day St. Petersburg (then known as Petrograd). During the course of the assembly, the anti-Bolshevik Right Socialist-Revolutionary party dominated (due in part to an outdated ballot that Lenin argued was undemocratic because it failed to differentiate between the anti-Bolshevik Right and the pro-Bolshevik Left Socialist-Revolutionary parties). In fact, Victor Chernov, the leader of the Right SRs, was elected Chairman of the Assembly. It was made clear that the Assembly opposed Soviet government, even though many workers, peasants, and soldiers (the supposed-constituents) aligned more with Soviet ideals. During a recess, however, the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs planned to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. At around 5 A.M. on January 6, 1918, the first attempt in parliamentary democracy in Russia ended.
“Constituent Assembly, All-Russian.” encspb.ru. http://www.encspb.ru/object/2804022934?lc=en
“Digital History Reader Module 3.” Evidence 24. http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/evidence_detail_24.html
“Russian Constituent Assembly.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 12 August 2014.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1917: Constituent Assembly.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2014. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917uchredilka&Year=1917&navi=byYear
I found this to be a very eye-opening post, as I had trouble grasping a complete understanding of the reading when it was describing the Constituent Assembly. It is interesting to see how a democratically-elected legislative body was in such high demand, yet the January 5-6 meeting was the only time the body met. While the Provisional Government never got around to holding a Constituent Assembly, it is somewhat understandable as they came into power in a hectic time when the centuries old Romanov dynasty crashed down, the war was still going on, and protest and mutinies were still occurring. I also found the fact that workers, peasants, and soldiers were more Soviet oriented in their ideals, yet the Assembly was against the Soviets. Lenin may have been correct when he stated the ballot was did not differentiate between the two parties enough.
Similarly, this post helped me better understand the creation and dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. It is a shame this attempt to establish democracy in Russia lasted for only a short time.
The issue of the constituent assembly is important and confusing! This post is really clear on the dissolution of the assembly and what that meant for the prospects of democracy in Russia. Point of clarification though: the elections for the CA happen after the October Revolution. The Provisional Government’s delay in convening the CA (after all, the PG was “Provisional” until a constituent assembly could meet and draft a constitution) was one of the many reasons it lost support over the summer of 1917.