The revolutionary era that tore through Russia at the start of the 20th century gave rise to a plethora of solutions to the burning questions surrounding industrialization, autocracy, minorities, and the role of the peasants, a midst many other things. Of these various ideas, some naturally gained support and developed into the many parties that arose in Russia in the early 1900’s. One such group were the Liberals, and more specifically for this post, the Constitutional Democrats.
The Constitutional Democratic Party, or Kadets as they were commonly referred, was a party, made up primarily of professionals and members of the zemstvo, which came to the forefront around the time of Nicholas II’s ‘October Manifesto’. The Kadets principal focus was a Constituent Assembly that would replace the current autocratic system; however, they were forced to settle with the Duma established by the ‘October Manifesto’. In the First State Duma, Kadets made up a significant portion of the elected seats and through alliance were able to gain a majority. Despite some early success in the Duma, the radical opinions of the Kadets eventually resulted in the removal of the First Duma for a newly appointed Second Duma. The Kadets challenge of this decision with the Vyborg Manifesto backfired and resulted in bans on serving in the Duma for many Kadets, leading to their loss of power to the more conservative factions, such as the Octobrists, in the Third Duma created by Stolypin’s coup. (Freeze, Russia A History)
The western perspective can be seen in a New York Times newspaper article from June of 1907, shortly after the second Duma was dissolved by Stolypin. The article, entitled “A Return to the Old Regime”, clearly portrays the western sentiment that this development destroyed any last hope Russia had to move away from bureaucracy toward a constitutional democracy. Most notably, the article mentions the view of the Kadets that were present in the previous Duma as “objectionable criminals” and essentially describes the breakdown of the party. As a result of this breakdown, the article predicts impending murders which are described as, “such a common thing in Russia that people talk about it as in other countries people talk about the measles.” It can clearly be seen that Russia was still viewed as a dark and backward place from the western perspective and that the collapse of the Kadets, as well as other parties with similar goals of a shift away from bureaucracy in Russia, was a major hit to the hopes of a new Russia for the Westerners looking in. (New York Times, “A Return to the Old Regime)
As the importance of the events surrounding the corruption of the Duma, both for Russians and the world, became apparent I looked a little further into the leadership of the Kadets and their representatives in the Russian Dumas and came across an interesting figure. As a biochemist, I naturally gravitate toward anything science and was struck by the name Vladimir Vernadsky. Vernadsky was a famous scientist who worked in all realms of the earth sciences from nuclear energy to the chemistry of other planets. He was a pioneer in the development of many geological fields and is revered to this day in Russia (I highly suggest at least perusing the article about his life and research!) But what I found most interesting about Vernadsky was his major involvement with the Kadets. In reading through major leaders of the various parties in the revolutionary era of Russia, many of the important names belong to famed politicians or historians or lawyers or simply upstanding nobleman but seldom is someone so devoted to science listed prominently among a parties notable members. As a result, I couldn’t help but find out more about Vernadsky’s involvement in the revolutionary movement in Russia, and it turns out he had much more than just an affiliation with the Constitutional Democrats. His contribution to the party began even before its existence as he helped to found the Union of Liberation which was the illegal precursor that he played a role in converting to the Constitutional Democratic Party when political parties became legal after the 1905 revolution. Vernadsky continued his role with the party as a member of the Central Committee of the Kadets and even served in the Duma as a Kadet delegate. He remained an active and loyal Constitutional Democrat through 1917 but then fled to Ukraine and later Crimea when the Bolsheviks took power. Interestingly enough, despite his known ties to the Kadets, Lenin later had Vernadsky brought back to Russia to help revive the pre-war scientific ideals. I found it very interesting that Vernadsky was able to leave so strong and lasting a mark on both the political and scientific histories of early 20th century Russia and felt it was worth sharing.
Special Cablegram. 1907. “A RETURN TO THE OLD REGIME.” New York Times (1857-1922), Jun 23, 1. http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96768585?accountid=14826.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009. 199-233. Print.