1917 - Delo Naroda on the question of power

The Soviets and the Constituent Assembly

(editorial in Delo naroda 6 October 1917)

[Translator's note: This piece represents the thinking of the main body of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party on the question of state power and authority in the period immediately preceding the Bolsheviks' seizure of power. It is notable that all the criticism here is directed against the Bolsheviks. There is not even an oblique reference to the fact that very similar ideas on Soviet power were gaining currency among the SR party's own left wing, and that this was one of the main issues underlying the formal split in the SR party which came about around one month later. - FK]

The question of the relationship between the Soviets, the authoritative organs of revolutionary democracy, and the Constituent Assembly, the sovereign organ of the people's will and power, has once again been raised in the pages of the socialist press.

The reason for this has been the timing of the convocation of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies - 20 October. Falling right in the midst of the election campaign, this timing has led to strong objections. These have come not only from the Executive Committee of the All-Russia Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, which considers the calling of the congress for 20 October "untimely and dangerous", but also from army organisations, which have pointed to the complete impossibility of diverting their best forces from preparing for the Constituent Assembly elections.

The revolutionary democracy has to attract tens of millions of men and women, who are only coming to political activity for the first time, to participate consciously in the elections. Given the massive size of our country, its lack of roads and the poverty of its intellectual resources, one would think that the magnitude of this task would, for simple considerations of expediency and political calculation, cause the congress to be postponed until the period between the end of polling and the opening of the Constituent Assembly. Instead, the Bolshevik press, by means of a whole series of exaggerations, slanderous insinuations and distortions of facts, is trying to present the matter as if the postponement of the congress reflects a desire to "get rid" of the Soviets, a "betrayal of the revolution", a "sell out of the working class" and even the "wrecking of the Constituent Assembly". Sick ideas displace healthy ones, as they say.

What is the matter here? And, first of all, a general question: should the Soviets disappear with the opening of the Constituent Assembly; can both institutions coexist at the same time? The Soviets are class organs of the workers, soldiers and peasants. When the revolution managed at one stroke to remove Tsarism's entire state organisation, all the machinery of compulsion and authority upon which the old order rested, the Soviets arose in the place of the defunct government machinery. The force of events made them into revolutionary organs, that is, organs of state power at the centre and in the localities. In this way, a class organisation of the working people became endowed with state authority.

But this kind of power structure, so unusual in the present period, was brought about exclusively by the disappearance of the old, autocratic state organs. The people were drawn to the Soviets as the only institutions in the country, the provinces and the villages that could reestablish broken economic and administrative links and serve as a cement, something on which the people could rely. But as soon as new elements of state organisation were created, the town dumas and the zemstva, suited to a modern democratic state, the question of the limits of the Soviets' state powers immediately arose. And this question will become even more pressing with the opening of the Constituent Assembly as the only bearer of supreme power.

We consider that under the capitalist economic system in which we are now living and which - until the socialist revolution in Western Europe - will remain the basic economic reality in our country, the republic of Soviets can only be the class organisation of the working people. This can and should carry an enormous weight in the political and economic life of the country, but is not the basic component element of the state organisation of a democratic republic. The only thing that is incompatible with the opening of a Constituent Assembly, elected on the basis of universal, direct and equal suffrage is the struggle to overthrow it under the slogan of "all power to the Soviets". But powerful organisations of workers and peasants are not only compatible, but essential in the course of the Constituent Assembly's work. Only with their help will it be possible to put the decisions of the Constituent Assembly into effect, and only their presence in the country can provide a firm guarantee of the democratic nature and justice of these decisions.

Therefore, the Bolsheviks' slanderous campaign against those peasants' and soldiers' organisations and socialist parties which have come out in favour of postponing the congress of Soviets until the period between the end of the polls for the Constituent Assembly and the opening of the Assembly, is motivated simply by an unwillingness to accept the impending collapse of Bolshevism's main tactical slogan of transferring state power to the Soviets. And, in objecting to holding the congress of Soviets on 20 October and proposing another date, such as 20 November, we are not attempting to render the revolutionary organs of democracy ineffectual. On the contrary, we want to link them with the socialist representation which will sit in the Constituent Assembly, so that the socialist parties, based on the authoritative organs of revolutionary democracy, will be able boldly and decisively implement their election platforms and promises.

Delo naroda, No. 173, 6 October 1917