The All Russian Constituent Assembly (Всероссийское Учредительное Собрание, Vserossiiskoe Uchreditelnoe Sobranie) was a democratically elected constitutional body convened in Russia after the October Revolution of 1917. It was originally patterned after the Constituent Assembly convened in the early stages of the French Revolution. The Assembly was part of a plan developed by the Provisional Government to reshape Russian society into a democracy, however the elections were postponed due to Russia's continued participation in World War I. By the time finally met, the Bolsheviks had already overthrown the Provisional Goverment. They allowed the Assembly to meet with the hope that they could control the proceedings. It met for 13 hours, from 4:00 P.M. to 5:00 A.M., January 5–January 6, 1918, (O.S.), before it was dissolved by the Bolsheviks. The inability to elect the Constituent Assembly in a more timely fashion is one of the reasons for the failure of the Provisional Government and the 74-year reign of communism.
The convocation of a democratically elected Constituent Assembly that would write a constitution for Russia was one of the main demands of all Russian revolutionary parties prior to the Russian Revolution of 1905. After the revolution, the Tsarist decided to grant basic civil liberties and hold elections to a newly created legislative body, the State Duma, in 1906. The Duma, however, was not authorized to write a new constitution, much less abolish the monarchy. Moreover, the Duma's powers were falling into the hands of the Constitutional Democrats and not the Marxist Socialists. The government dissolved the Duma, as was their legal agreement, in July 1906 and, after a new election, in June 1907. The final election law written by the government after the second dissolution on June 3, 1907, favored poor and the working classes. What little the Duma could do after 1907 was often vetoed by the Tsar or the appointed upper house of the Russian parliament, therefore the Duma was widely seen as representative of the lower working classes and effective and the demands for a Constituent Assembly that would be elected on the basis of wealthy class universal suffrage continued unabated.
With the overthrow of Nicholas II during the February Revolution of 1917, state power was assumed by the Russian Provisional Government, which was formed by the liberal Duma leadership and supported by the socialist-dominated Petrograd Soviet. According the will of Grand Duke Michael who refused the throne after abdication of Nicholas II, the new government should hold country-wide elections to the Constituent Assembly, which in turn should determine the form of government, a task complicated by the continuing World War I and occupation of some parts of the Russian Empire by the Central Powers. The reason why the successive four governments between February and October 1917 were called "Provisional" was that their members intended to hold on to power only until a permanent form of government was established by the Constituent Assembly.
According to the initial plan of the Grand Duke, the Constituent Assembly was the only body to have authority to change the form of government in Russia. Alexander Kerensky and the Provisional Government claimed that they would organize elections after the war, but in spite the initial agreement in July 1917 they declared Russia a republic and begun preparations for elections to a "Preparliament," later named the Council of the Russian Republic<refname= Preparliament>. These actions triggered criticism from both left and right. Monarchists saw the declaration of a republican form of government in Russia as unacceptable, while the left considered the declaration a power grab intended to weaken the influence of the Soviets. Soon after, the Kornilov Affair (a failed military coup) paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power in the October Revolution.
The Bolsheviks' position on the Constituent Assembly evolved throughout 1917. At first, like all other socialist parties, they supported the idea. However, the deteriorating conditions in the country soon convinced Vladimir Lenin that the time to seize power had arrived. After returning from Switzerland in April 1917, Lenin's new slogan became "All Power to the Soviets!," it referred to transferring current state power from the Provisional Government to the socialist-dominated workers' and soldiers' councils known as "Soviets" (Совет, council) and not to the ultimate power which was to be held by the Constituent Assembly. For example, on September 12–September 14, 1917, Lenin wrote to the Bolshevik Central Committee, urging it to seize power:
Nor can we "wait" for the Constituent Assembly, for by surrendering Petrograd [prime minister] Kerensky and Co. can always frustrate its convocation. Our Party alone, on taking power, can secure the Constituent Assembly’s convocation; it will then accuse the other parties of procrastination and will be able to substantiate its accusations .
On October 25, 1917, Old Style (November 7, 1917, New Style), the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government (known as the October Revolution) through the Petrograd Soviet and the Military Revolutionary Committee. The uprising coincided with the convocation of the Second Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Soviets, where the Bolsheviks had 390 delegates out of 650 and which transferred state power to the newly former Bolshevik government, the Sovnarkom. Deputies representing more moderate socialist parties, the Mensheviks and right wing of Socialist Revolutionaries, protested what they considered an illegitimate seizure of power and walked out of the Congress.
Over the following few weeks, the Bolsheviks established control over almost all ethnically Russian areas, but had less success in ethnically non-Russian areas. Although the new government limited freedom of the press (by sporadically banning non-socialist press) and persecuted the Constitutional Democratic party (the main liberal party in the country) it otherwise permitted elections to proceed on November 12, 1917 as scheduled by the Provisional Government.
Officially, the Bolshevik government at first considered itself a provisional government and claimed that it intended to submit to the will of the Constituent Assembly. As Lenin wrote on November 5 (emphasis added):
Hence the Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, primarily the uyezd and then the gubernia Soviets, are from now on, pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, vested with full governmental authority in their localities 
The election to the Constituent Assembly yielded the following results:
|Party||Votes||Number of deputies|
|Left Socialist Revolutionaries||39|
However, due to the vast size of the country, Russia's ongoing participation in World War I and a deteriorating communications system, these results were not fully available at the time. A partial count (54 constituencies out of 79) was published by N. V. Svyatitsky in A Year of the Russian Revolution. 1917-18, (Moscow: Zemlya i Volya Publishers, 1918.) Svyatitsky's data was generally accepted by all political parties, including the Bolsheviks , and was as follows:
|Russian Socialist Revolutionaries||Socialist||16,500,000|
|Ukrainian, Moslem, and other non-Russian Socialist Revolutionaries||Socialist||4,400,000|
|Ukrainian socialists||Social Democratic||507,000|
|Popular Socialists||Social Democratic||312,000|
|Other Rightist groups||Rightist||292,000|
|Association of Rural Proprietors and Landowners||Rightist||215,000|
|Ukrainian Social Democrats||Social Democratic||95,000|
|German socialists||Social Democratic||44,000|
|Finnish socialists||Social Democratic||14,000|
The Bolsheviks received between 22 percent and 25 percent  of the vote, while the Socialist-Revolutionary Party received around 57-58 percent; 62 percent with their social democratic allies. However, the actual strength of the Socialist Revolutionaries was somewhat less, since the Ukrainian SRs did not attend the Constituent Assembly when it convened.
The Bolsheviks began to equivocate on whether they would submit to the Constituent Assembly immediately after the elections were held and it looked likely that they would lose. On November 14, 1917, Lenin said at the Extraordinary All-Russia Congress Of Soviets Of Peasants' Deputies:
On November 21, People's Commissar for Naval Affairs Pavel Dybenko ordered to keep 7000 pro-Bolshevik Kronstadt sailors on "full alert" in case of a convocation of the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1917. A meeting of some 20,000 Kronstadt "soldiers, sailors, workers and peasants" resolved to only support a Constituent Assembly that was:
With the split between mainstream Socialist Revolutionaries and Left Socialist Revolutionaries finalized in November, the Bolsheviks formed a coalition government with the latter. On November 28, the Soviet government declared the Constitutional Democratic Party "a party of the enemies of the people," banned the party and ordered its leaders arrested. It also postponed the convocation of the Constituent Assembly until early January. At first the Soviet government blamed the delays on technical difficulties and machinations of their enemies , but on December 26, 1917, Lenin's Theses on the Constituent Assembly were published. In these theses, he argued that the Soviets were a "higher form of democracy" than the Constituent Assembly:
and that the Constituent Assembly as elected was not truly representative of the will of the Russian people because:
Therefore Lenin asserted that:
Not everybody in the Bolshevik party was willing to go along with what increasingly looked like an upcoming suppression of the Constituent Assembly. In early December, the moderates even had a majority among the Bolshevik delegates to the Constituent Assembly, but Lenin prevailed at the December 11, 1917, meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee, which ordered Bolshevik delegates to follow Lenin's line .
In the morning of January 5, 1918, troops loyal to the Bolshevik government fired upon a massive peaceful demonstration in support of the assembly, dispersed its supporters .
The Constituent Assembly quorum met in the Tauride Palace in Petrograd, between 4P.M. and 4:40A.M., January 5-6, 1918. A prominent Bolshevik, Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov, in a speech approved by Lenin, explained why the Bolsheviks didn't feel obligated to submit to the democratically-elected Constituent Assembly:
A motion by the Bolsheviks that would have recognized the Bolshevik government and made the assembly powerless was voted down. Victor Chernov, the leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries, was elected Chairman with 244 votes against the Bolshevik-backed leader of Left Socialist Revolutionaries Maria Spiridonova's 153 votes. The Bolsheviks and their Left Socialist Revolutionary allies then convened a special meeting of the Soviet government, Sovnarkom, and decided to dissolve the Assembly. After Deputy People's Commissar for Naval Affairs Fyodor Raskolnikov read a prepared statement, the two factions walked out. Lenin left the building with the following instructions:
Around 4:00A.M., the head of the guards detachment, A. G. Zheleznyakov, approached Chernov and said:
Chernov quickly read the highlights of the SR-drafted "Law on the Land," which proclaimed a radical land reform , a law making Russia a democratic federal republic (thus ratifying the Provisional Government's decision adopted in September 1917) and an appeal to the Entente Allies for a democratic peace. The Assembly voted for the proposals, scheduled the next meeting for 5:00P.M. on January 6 and dispersed at 4:40A.M. The next day the deputies found the building locked down and the Constituent Assembly declared dissolved by the Bolshevik government, a Decree was ratified by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) late on January 6.
Barred from the Tauride Palace, Constituent Assembly deputies met at the Gurevich High School and held a number of secret meetings, but found that the conditions were increasingly dangerous. Some tried to relocate to the Tsentral'na Rada-controlled Kiev, but on January 15, 1918 Rada forces had to abandon the city, which effectively terminated the Constituent Assembly as a cohesive body 
The Socialist Revolutionary Central Committee met in January and decided against armed resistance since:
Instead the socialists (Socialist Revolutionaries and their Menshevik allies) decided to work within the Soviet system and returned to the Soviet All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK), the Petrograd Soviet and other Soviet bodies that they had walked out of during the Bolshevik uprising in October 1917. They hoped that Soviet re-elections would go their way once the Bolsheviks proved unable to solve pressing social and economic problems. They would then achieve a majority within local Soviets and, eventually, the Soviet government, at which point they would be able to re-convene the Constituent Assembly.
The socialists' plan was partially successful in that Soviet re-elections in the winter and especially spring of 1918 often returned pro-SR and anti-Bolshevik majorities, but their plan was frustrated by the Soviet government's refusal to accept election results and its repeated dissolution of anti-Bolshevik Soviets. As one of the leaders of Tula Bolsheviks N. V. Kopulov wrote to the Bolshevik Central Committee in early 1918:
In response, Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks started Assemblies of Workers' Plenipotentiaries which ran in parallel with the Bolshevik-dominated Soviets. The idea proved popular with the workers, but had little effect on the Bolshevik government.
With the signing of the peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by the Bolsheviks on March 3, 1918, the Socialist Revolutionary leadership increasingly viewed the Bolshevik government as a German proxy. They were willing to consider an alliance with the liberal Constitutional Democrats, which had been rejected as recently as December 1917 by their Fourth Party Congress. Socialists and liberals held talks on creating a united anti-Bolshevik front in Moscow in late March. However, the negotiations broke down since the SRs' insisted on re-convening the Constituent Assembly as elected in November 1917 while the Constitutional Democrats, who had done poorly in the November election, demanded new elections. .
On May 7, 1918 (New Style aka Gregorian Calendar from this point on) the Eighth Party Council of the Socialist Revolutionary Party convened in Moscow and decided to start an uprising against the Bolsheviks with the goal of reconvening the Constituent Assembly. While preparations were under way, the Czechoslovak Legions overthrew Bolshevik rule in Siberia, Urals and the Volga region in late May-early June 1918 and the center of SR activity shifted there. On June 8, 1918, five Constituent Assembly members formed an All-Russian Constituent Assembly Committee (Komuch) in Samara and declared it the new supreme authority in the country .
The Committee had the support of the Czechoslovak Legions and was able to spread its authority over much of the Volga-Kama region. However, most of the Siberia and Urals regions were controlled by a patchwork of ethnic, Cossack, military and liberal-rightist local governments, which constantly clashed with the Committee. The Committee functioned until September 1918, eventually growing to about 90 Constituent Assembly members, when the so-called "State Conference" representing all the anti-Bolshevik local governments from the Volga to the Pacific Ocean formed a coalition "All-Russian Supreme Authority" (aka the "Ufa Directory") with the ultimate goal of re-convening the Constituent Assembly once the circumstances permitted:
The All-Russian Constituent Assembly Committee continued functioning as "Congress of Members of the Constituent Assembly" but had no real power, although the Directory pledged to support it:
Initially, the agreement had the support of the Socialist Revolutionary Central Committee which delegated two of its right-wing members, Avksentiev and Zenzinov, to the five member Ufa Directory. However, when Victor Chernov arrived in Samara on September 19, 1918, he was able to persuade the Central Committee to withdraw support from the Directory because he viewed it as too conservative and the SR presence there as insufficient . This put the Directory in a political vacuum and two months later, on November 18, 1918, it was overthrown by rightwing officers who made Admiral Alexander Kolchak the new "supreme ruler."
After the fall of the Ufa Directory, Chernov formulated what he called the "third path" against both the Bolsheviks and the liberal-rightist White Movement, but the SRs' attempts to assert themselves as an independent force were unsuccessful and the party, always fractious, began to disintegrate. On the Right, Avksentiev and Zenzinov went abroad with Kolchak's permission. On the Left, some SRs became reconciled with the Bolsheviks. Chernov tried to stage an uprising against Kolchak in December 1918, but it was put down and its participants executed. In February 1919 the SR Central Committee decided that the Bolsheviks were the lesser of two evils and gave up armed struggle against them. The Bolsheviks let the SR Central Committee re-establish itself in Moscow and start publishing a party newspaper in March 1919, but they were soon arrested and spent the rest of the Russian Civil War in prison . Chernov went undercover and eventually was forced to flee Russia while the imprisoned Central Committee members were put on trial in 1922 and their leaders sentenced to death, although their sentences were later suspended .
With the main pro-Constituent Assembly party effectively out of the picture, the only remaining force that supported its re-convocation was the Entente Allies. On May 26, 1919, the Allies offered Kolchak their support predicated on a number of conditions, including free elections at all levels of government and reinstating the Constituent Assembly. On June 4, 1919, Kolchak accepted most of the conditions, but he refused to reconvene the Assembly elected in November 1917 since, he claimed, it had been elected under Bolshevik rule and the elections were not fully free. On June 12, 1919, the Allies deemed the response satisfactory and the demand for a reconvocation of the original Constituent Assembly was abandoned .
Both Kolchak and the leader of the White Movement in the South of Russia, General Anton Denikin, officially subscribed to the principle of "non-predetermination," i.e., they refused to determine what kind of social or political system Russia would have until after Bolshevism was defeated. Kolchak and Denikin made general promises to the effect that there would be no return to the past and that there would be some form of popular representation put in place. However, as one Russian journalist observed at the time:
Numerous memoirs published by the leaders of the White Movement after their defeat are inconclusive on the subject. There doesn't appear to be enough evidence to tell which group in the White Movement would have prevailed in case of a White victory and whether new Constituent Assembly elections would have been held, much less how restrictive they would have been.
After the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War in late 1920, 38 members of the Constituent Assembly met in Paris in 1921 and formed an executive committee, which consisted of the Constitutional Democrats leader Pavel Milyukov, one of the Progressist leaders, Alexander Konovalov, a Ufa Directory member, Avksentiev, and the head of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky. Like other emigre organizations, it proved ineffective .
According to a sympathetic account, Leninism under Lenin (1975) by Marcel Liebman, the Bolsheviks and their allies had a majority in the Soviets due to its different electoral system. Per the 1918 Soviet Constitution, each urban (and usually pro-Bolshevik) Soviet had 1 delegate per 25,000 voters. Each rural (usually pro-SR) Soviet was only allowed 1 delegate per 125,000 voters. The Bolsheviks justified closing down the Assembly by pointing out that the election did not take into account the split in the SR Party. A few weeks later the Left SR and Right SR got roughly equal votes in the Peasant Soviets. The Bolsheviks also argued that the Soviets were more democratic as delegates could be removed by their electors instantly rather than the parliamentary style of the Assembly where the elected members could only be removed after several years at the next election. The book states that all the elections to the Peasant and Urban Soviets were free and these Soviets then elected the All-Russian Congress of Soviets which chose the Soviet Government, the Second Congress taking place before the Assembly, the Third Congress just after.
Two more recent books using material from the opened Soviet archives, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919 by Richard Pipes and A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes, give very different accounts. Pipes, a noted critic of the Soviet Union, argues that the elections to the Second Congress were not fair. For example, one Soviet with 1500 members sent five delegates which was more than Kiev. He states that both the SRs and the Mensheviks declared this election illegal and unrepresentative. The books states that the Bolsheviks, two days after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, created a counter-assembly, the Third Congress of Soviets. They gave themselves and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries 94 percent of the seats, far more than the results from the only nationwide parliamentary democratic election in Russia during this time.
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