Kadets (Constitutional Democratic Party)

views updated



The Constitutional Democratic Party, nicknamed the Kadets, was Russia's most important liberal party during the revolutionary era of 1905 to 1921. Russian liberalism emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century out of the changes occurring in society following the Great Reforms and the beginning of industrialization. It grew along with the new professional classes and the demand for rule of law, civil rights, and constitutionalism. The Revolution of 1905 provided the opportunity for formation of a liberal political party, the Constitutional Democratic Party. It was drawn overwhelmingly from the professions; few of its leaders came from the commercial classes. Among a constellation of talented figures, Professor Pavel (Paul) N. Milyukov, a historian at Moscow University, emerged as the party's generally recognized leader.

The Kadet party emphasized several principles, which remained largely consistent over its lifetime. It stressed that it was "above classes" and criticized other parties for their class orientations. Instead, it emphasized a broad nationalism, national unity, and "state consciousness." It emphasized the importance of rule of law, civil rights, constitutional government, and the "four-tail" suffrage—equal, direct, secret, and universal. It supported land reform and distribution among the peasants, but with compensation for landlords. It accepted the need to improve working conditions and wages for the new industrial working class, but within the existing framework of private property. It advocated full and equal rights for all ethnic and religious groups, but rejected the idea of federalism along nationality lines. How to achieve these and other objectives divided the party throughout its history. Some argued that it should seek alliances to the left and press ahead for rapid achievement of its goals, whereas others advocated a more gradualist approach and seeking allies among more conservative elements. This division on tactics became especially acute at the two times the Kadets were in a position to influence significantly the course of Russian affairs—during the First and Second Dumas (1906–1907) and during the Provisional Government formed after the February 1917 revolution.

The Kadets emerged from Russia's first national elections in 1906 as the largest party in the First State Duma. Their efforts to push further constitutional reform were blocked by the stubborn resistance of Nicholas II. The conservative counterrevolution of 1907 that severely restricted the franchise reduced them to a small minority in the restructured Third Duma. The remarkable abilities of their members, however, allowed the Kadets to play a prominent role in the conservative Dumas between 1907 and 1917, especially in the Progressive Bloc formed in 1915 to pressure Nicholas over failures in prosecuting World War I and in favor of renewed government reform.

When the Russian Revolution began in February 1917, Kadets played the leading role in the new Provisional Government. The Kadetled government quickly expanded civil rights and aimed toward a new political era based on rule of law. They also worked to contain the radicalism and social-economic disruption of the revolution, and under Milyukov's leadership insisted on prosecuting the war to complete victory. Both of these policies put the Kadets on a collision course with popular opinion. The socialist leaders of the Petrograd Soviet pressured the government to seek a negotiated peace, and when Milyukov resisted, this sparked massive street demonstrations, the "April Crisis." Milyukov and some other Kadets resigned, and the Provisional Government was reconstructed on 4 May by the addition of socialist leaders from the Soviet. Although Kadets participated in this and all later reconstitutions of the Provisional Government, from May onward their influence declined.

The Kadets continued to be torn by their old division over tactics. A minority, led by Nikolai Nekrasov, advocated closer working relations with the moderate socialists and the Soviet, including adoption of some of their reform and peace policies. The majority, led by Milyukov, rejected this strategy. Indeed, with the virtual disappearance after February of truly conservative political parties the Kadets became the de facto right wing, the new "conservative" party, of Russian political life. As the revolution moved leftward in the summer, many Kadets joined the conservative reaction that sought a "restoration of order" through a military strongman. When General Lavr Kornilov emerged in the role in August, the Kadet party declined to support him officially, but many members did in fact or in spirit. After Kornilov's failure, many Kadets began to accept the inevitability of civil war. This was reinforced by their poor showing in the nationwide elections in November for the Constituent Assembly—they received only about 5 percent of the vote, although they fared better in major cities.

As civil war became a reality in early 1918, the Constitutional Democratic Party struggled to find a position consistent with its basic beliefs. Some Kadets supported efforts by moderate socialists to create an alternative to the Bolsheviks. More supported the military dictatorships of the various White movements. Within those, they tried to influence events while sustaining the party's traditional commitment to constitutionalism, rule of law, and a unified Russia. After the civil war, the party leadership tried to reconstitute a role for the party from émigrés in western Europe, but the old divisions over tactics quickly led to a formal split in July 1921 and the effective end of the party.

See alsoRussian Revolutions of 1917 .


Pearson, Raymond. The Russian Moderates and the Crisis of Tsarism, 1914–1917. London, 1977. Good account of the Kadets and the moderates during the war.

Rosenberg, William G. Liberals in the Russian Revolution: The Constitutional Democratic Party, 1917–1921. Princeton, N.J., 1974. The fullest and most authoritative account of the Constitutional Democratic Party.

——. "The Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets)." In Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914–1921, edited by Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, and William G. Rosenberg, 256–266. Bloomington, Ind., 1997. A good short summary of the preceding.

Stockdale, Melissa Kirschke. Pavel Miliukov and the Quest for a Liberal Russia, 1880–1918. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996. The best biography of the Kadet leader.

Rex A. Wade