Constituent Assembly

views updated May 14 2018


The All-Russian Constituent Assembly, which opened and closed on January 5, 1918, was elected to draft a constitution for the new Russian state. Prior to 1917, most oppositionist parties agreed that a democratically elected assembly should determine Russia's political future. Just after the February Revolution, State Duma and Petrograd Soviet leaders who created the Provisional Government specifically tasked it with prompt elections to the Constituent Assembly. During 1917, virtually all political parties indicated their intention to participate in them and to abide by the results. Still, moderate Provisional Government ministers, fearing the results of democratic elections and preoccupied with the war, postponed the elections, undercutting the government's legitimacy and precipitating a shift of support to radicals. By the early fall of 1917, Bolshevik, Left Socialist Revolutionary (Left SR), and other supporters of "soviet power" and an "all-socialist government" proclaimed that only the Provisional Government's overthrow would bring about the Constituent Assembly, still viewed as final arbiter of Russia's fate.

The elections, with over 60 percent voter participation, occurred on November 12, 1917, after the overthrow of the Provisional Government, seemingly fulfilling the radicals' predictions. The elections awarded the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) a huge vote from the empire's peasants. The Bolsheviks did well among urban laboring populations and soldiers at the fronts, whereas the liberal Constitutional Democrats received support from educated and prosperous middle classes. Far rightist parties did poorly, as did the formerly popular Mensheviks. Overall, the SRs and their Ukrainian, Armenian, and other ethnic allies received more than 50 percent of the votes cast, as opposed to the Bolsheviks' 25 percent. In response, the Bolsheviks and Left SRs alleged that the SR Central Committee had undercut Left SR representation by placing moderate SRs on party candidate lists.

The Constituent Assembly, with its effective SR majority, met on January 5 in Petrograd and elected the SR leader Victor Chernov as chair. After lengthy deliberations and the withdrawal of the Bolshevik and Left SR factions, the Leninist government declared the session closed and placed guards around the locked building. Thus ingloriously ended Russia's most democratic electoral experiment until the 1990s. Presumably, the assembly would have written a constitution in a socialist and democratic spirit. Although some Petrograd workers demonstrated in support of the Constitutional Assembly (and were dispersed by deadly fire), the nation's population responded weakly. This passive reaction reflected in part a common misunderstanding of the assembly as a government in competition with the still popular Soviet government. Many SR delegates withdrew to the Volga region, where, by the late summer of 1918, they formed a government in Samara, which they hoped would be based upon a quorum of Constituent Assembly delegates. Like other attempts by moderates during 1918 at state-building, this fledgling government, an alternative to the Communist regime in Moscow, was crushed between the militarily predominant Red and White extremes. Viewed by some as a footnote in the creation of the new socialist state, and by others as the end of democracy for the Russian Revolution, the Constituent Assembly's demise was a perplexing tragedy.

See also: civil war of 19171922; february revolution; october revolution; provisional government.


Radkey, Oliver. (1990). Russian Goes to the Polls: The Election to the All-Russian Constituent Assembly, 1917. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Smirnov, Nikolai. (1997). "The Constituent Assembly." In Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution, 1917-1921, eds. Edward Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev, and William G. Rosenberg. London: Arnold.

Michael Melancon

Constituent Assembly

views updated May 29 2018

Constituent Assembly the parliamentary assembly of revolutionary France, set up in 1789 under the formal name of Assemblée Nationale Constituante; it was replaced by the Legislative Assembly in 1791.

The name Constituent Assembly was subsequently used for the body elected in 1917 in the first phase of the Russian Revolution; it was dissolved in 1918 by the Bolsheviks.

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Constituent Assembly

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