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Constitutional Democratic Party

CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY

The liberal Constitutional Democratic Party, or Party of People's Freedom (known as the Cadets, from the initials of its name), was Russia's largest political party before 1917. Founded in October 1905, the party's basic goals were embodied in its name: transformation of Russia into a constitutional, rule-of-law state and democratization of the political and social order. Its program called for civil rights for all citizens, including freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and person; full equality of all before the law; a legislative body elected by equal, direct, universal suffrage (female as well as male); separation of church and state; and greater local self-government. The program also contained important social provisions, including labor protections and the right to unionize and strike, mandatory health insurance and state-funded old age pensions, a progressive income tax, and a state land fund to address peasant land hunger.

At its height, in 1905 and 1906, the Constitutional Democrats had approximately 100,000 members and 346 local party organizations, and was strongest in larger urban areas. Prominent leaders included Peter Struve, Ivan Petrunkevich, Prince Dmitry Shakhovskoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Maxim Vinaver, Andrei Shingarev, and the party head, Paul Miliukov. The composition of the Cadets was diverse, consisting of educated professionals (professors, lawyers, doctors, engineers), low-level white-collar workers and teachers, petty traders, artisans, shop clerks, and some workers and peasants. The party's commitment to cultural self-determination for minorities was attractive to elements of the empire's large non-Russian population, particularly Ukrainians, Jews, and Armenians. Thanks to their relative indifference to economic development, the Cadets attracted few of the so-called big bourgeoisie.

The Constitutional Democrats enjoyed their greatest success in March 1906 in Russia's first-ever national elections, from which they emerged as the largest party in the First Duma with 179 seats. Mutual lack of trust and cooperation between government and Duma resulted in a speedy dissolution, in July 1906. The Cadets again won the largest number of deputies in the elections to the Second Duma, although fiercer competition from socialists reduced their seats to one hundred. Despite liberal efforts to make the Second Duma productive and less provocative, the lower house was dissolved on June 3, 1907. The government simultaneously issued a restrictive new electoral law that disenfranchised many liberal voters, reducing the Cadets in the Third and Fourth Dumas to around fifty-five deputies.

Over the next seven years the party endured government harassment, shrinking membership, and the defeat of most of its reform bills. World War I helped restore the party's fortunes, as the Cadets wholeheartedly supported the war effort and played a leading role in the Union of Cities and other relief organizations. In the summer of 1915, the Cadets helped orchestrate the Progressive Bloc, a broad, reformist coalition in the Duma that sought to restore public confidence in the war effort.

The Constitutional Democrats enthusiastically welcomed the February 1917 revolution and helped establish the first Provisional Government, in which they held five portfolios; party membership burgeoned. Their newfound popularity quickly waned, however, due to their continued support for the unpopular war and related insistence on postponing social reforms. Determined opponents of the Bolsheviks, the liberal Cadets were the first party outlawed by the new Soviet government, in December 1917, despite their having won only 2 million of the 41.6 million votes cast in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Much of the party leadership joined the anti-Bolshevik movement; after the Red victory in the Civil War, many Cadets emigrated to Europe, where they reconstituted the party organizations and debated how to end Bolshevik rule in Russia. The Constitutional Democratic Party split into two separate organizations over this issue in Paris in July 1921; it formally ceased to exist in 1924.

See also: constituent assembly; duma; milyukov, pavel nikolayevich; provisional government

Melissa K. Stockdale

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