Constitutional Illusions

Constitutional illusions are what we call a political error when people believe in the existence of a normal, juridical, orderly and legalised—in short, “constitutional”—system, although it does not really exist.

At first glance it may appear that in Russia today, July 1917, when no constitution has yet been drafted, there can be no question of constitutional illusions arising. But it would be very wrong to think so. In reality, the essential characteristic of the present political situation in Russia is that an extremely large number of people entertain constitutional illusions. It is impossible to understand anything about the political situation in Russia today without appreciating this. Positively no step can be taken towards a correct formulation of our tactical tasks in Russia today unless we above all concentrate on systematically and ruthlessly exposing constitutional illusions, revealing all their roots and re-establishing a proper political perspective.

Let us take three ideas which are most typical of the current constitutional illusions, and look into them carefully:

Idea No. 1 is that our country is about to have a Constituent Assembly; therefore, everything going on now is temporary, transitory, inessential and non-decisive, and every thing will soon be revised and firmly regulated by the Constituent Assembly.

Idea No. 2 is that certain parties, such as the Socialist-Revolutionaries or the Mensheviks, or their alliance, command an obvious and undisputed majority among the people or in “the most influential” institutions, such as the Soviets. Therefore, the will of these parties and institutions, like the will of the majority of the people in general, cannot be ignored, and even less violated, in republican, democratic and revolutionary Russia.

Esha’s comments: Way too many Americans mistakenly believe that the government cares and will actually do what they want if they show up.

Example of Constitutional Illusions Occupy Wallstreet

Idea No. 3 is that a certain measure, such as closing down Pravda, was not legalised either by the Provisional Government or by the Soviets; therefore, it was only a passing phase, a chance occurrence, which cannot at all be regarded as something decisive.

Let us look into each of these ideas:

The first Provisional Government promised to convene a Constituent Assembly. It considered that its main job was to prepare the country for a Constituent Assembly. The second Provisional Government fixed September 30 for convening a Constituent Assembly. The third Provisional Government, after July 4, solemnly reaffirmed that date.

Nevertheless, the chances are a hundred to one against the Constituent Assembly being convened on that date. And even if it is, the chances are again a hundred to one that it will be as impotent and useless as was the First Duma—until a second revolution triumphs in Russia. To appreciate this, you only have to detach yourself for a moment from the present hubbub of empty phrases, promises and petty doings which fuddles your thinking, and take a look at the main thing, at what determines everything in public life—the class struggle.

It is clear that the bourgeoisie in Russia have become very closely tied up with the landowners. This is shown by the whole press, the elections, the entire policy of the Cadet Party and the parties to the right of it, and by speeches made at “congresses” of “interested” persons. The bourgeoisie understand perfectly what the petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionary and “Left” Menshevik windbags can not understand, namely, that private landownership in Russia cannot be abolished, and this without compensation, except by carrying through a gigantic economic revolution, by bringing the banks under popular control, by nationalising the syndicates and adopting the most ruthless revolutionary measures against capital. The bourgeoisie under stand that perfectly. At the same time, however, they must know, see and feel that the vast majority of peasants in Russia will now be much more to the left than Chernov as well as declaring for confiscation of the landed estates.

For the bourgeoisie know better than we do, both as to how many partial concessions were made them by Chernov, say, from May 6 to July 2, over delaying and curtailing the various peasant demands, and as to how much effort it took the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries (Chernov, believe it or not, is regarded as a “centre” man by the Socialist-Revolutionaries!) at the Peasant Congress and on the Executive Committee of the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies to “reassure” the peasants and feed them on promises.

The big bourgeoisie differ from the petty bourgeoisie in that they have learned, from their economic and political experience, the conditions under which “order” (i. e., keeping down the people) can be preserved under capitalism. The bourgeoisie are businessmen, people who make big commercial transactions and are accustomed to getting down even to political matters in a strictly business-like manner. They take the bull by the horns rather than putting their trust in words.

The Constituent Assembly in Russia today will yield a majority to peasants who are more to the left than the Socialist-Revolutionaries. The bourgeoisie know this and therefore are bound to put up a tremendous resistance to an early convocation. With a Constituent Assembly convened, it will be impossible, or exceedingly difficult, to carry on the imperialist war in the spirit of the secret treaties concluded by Nicholas II, or to defend the landed estates or the payment of compensation for them. The war will not wait. The class struggle will not wait. This was evident enough even in the brief span from February 28 to April 21.

From the very beginning of the revolution there have been two views on the Constituent Assembly. The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, completely swayed by constitutional illusions, viewed the matter with the   credulity of the petty bourgeoisie who will not hear of the class struggle: the Constituent Assembly has been proclaimed, there will be a Constituent Assembly and that’s all there is to it! Everything else is of the devil’s making. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks said: only the growing strength and authority of the Soviets can guarantee the convocation and success of the Constituent Assembly. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries laid emphasis on the act of law: the proclamation, the promise, the declaration to call a Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks laid emphasis on the class struggle: if the Soviets were to win, the Constituent Assembly would be certain to meet; if not, there would be no such certainty.

That is exactly what happened. The bourgeoisie have all along been waging both in the open and under cover a continuous and relentless struggle against calling a Constituent Assembly. This struggle was prompted by a desire to delay its convocation until after the war. It expressed itself in the fact that several times they postponed the date of convocation. When, after June 18, or more than a month after the formation of the coalition Cabinet, the convocation date was at last set, a Moscow bourgeois paper declared this had been done under the pressure of Bolshevik propaganda. Pravda has published an exact quotation from that paper.

After July 4, when the servility and timidity of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks had led to the “victory” of the counter-revolution, a brief but highly significant phrase—the “impossibly early” convocation of a Constituent Assembly!!—slipped into Rech. And on July 16, an item appeared in Volya Naroda and Russkaya Volya, saying that the Cadets insisted on postponing the convocation of the Constituent Assembly under the pretext that it was “impossible” to convene it at such “short” notice, and adding that the Menshevik Tsereteli, a lackey of the counter-revolution, had consented to its postponement until November 20!

Undoubtedly, this item slipped in against the will of the bourgeoisie who cannot benefit from such “revelations”. But murder will out. The counter-revolutionaries, letting themselves go after July 4, blurted out the truth. The   very first seizure of power by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie after July 4 was immediately followed by a measure (a very serious measure) against calling a Constituent Assembly.

That is a fact. And that fact reveals the utter futility of constitutional illusions. Unless a new revolution takes place in Russia, unless the power of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie (primarily the Cadets) is overthrown, and unless the people withdraw their trust from the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties, parties compromising with the bourgeoisie, the Constituent Assembly will either never meet, or else will be just a “Frankfurt talking shop”, an impotent and worthless assembly of petty bourgeois people frightened to death by the war and the prospect of the bourgeoisie “boycotting the government”, and helplessly torn between frantic efforts to rule without the bourgeoisie and the fear of getting along without them.

The Constituent Assembly issue is subordinate to that of the course and outcome of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Some time ago, Rabochaya Gazeta blurted out the remark that the Constituent Assembly would be a Convention. This is an example of the empty, wretched and contemptible bragging of our Menshevik lackeys of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. If it is not to be a “Frankfurt talking shop” or a First Duma, if it is to be a Convention, it must have the courage, the capacity and the strength to strike merciless blows at the counter revolutionaries instead of compromising with them. For this purpose power must be in the hands of the most advanced, most determined and most revolutionary class of today. For this purpose that class must be supported by the whole mass of the urban and rural poor (the semi-proletarians). For this purpose the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, i.e., primarily the Cadets and the high-ranking army officers, must. be dealt with mercilessly. These are the real, the class, the material conditions necessary for a Convention. You have only to list these conditions in a precise and clear way to understand the stupidity of Rabochaya Gazeta’s bragging and the utter foolishness of the constitutional illusions of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks regarding a Constituent Assembly in Russia today.

When lashing the petty-bourgeois “Social-Democrats” of 1848, Marx was particularly severe in his condemnation of their unrestrained use of empty phrases about “the people” and the majority of the people in general. It is well to recall this in examining the second idea, in analysing constitutional illusions about a “majority”.

For the majority in the state to really decide, definite conditions are required, one of which is the firm establishment of a political system, a form of state power, making it possible to decide matters by a majority and guaranteeing the translation of this possibility into reality. That is one thing. Another is that the class composition of this majority and the interrelation of classes inside (and outside) it should enable it to draw the chariot of state concertedly and effectively. Every Marxist knows that these two concrete conditions play a decisive part in the question of a popular majority and of the direction of state affairs in line with the will of the majority. And yet the political literature of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and their political conduct even more so, betray a complete lack of understanding of these conditions.

If political power in the state is in the hands of a class whose interests coincide with those of the majority, that state can be governed truly in line with the will of the majority. But if political power is in the hands of a class whose interests diverge from those of the majority, any form of majority rule is bound to become deception or suppression of the majority. Every bourgeois republic provides hundreds and thousands of examples of this kind. In Russia, the bourgeoisie rule both the economic and political life. Their interests, particularly during the imperialist war, violently conflict with the interests of the majority. Hence, from a materialist and Marxist, and not from a formally juridical point of view, we must expose this conflict, and combat bourgeois deception of the people.

Our Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, on the contrary, have fully demonstrated and proved that their true role is to be an instrument of the bourgeoisie for deceiving the people (the “majority”), to be the vehicle of   that deception and contribute to it. However sincere individual Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks may be, their fundamental political ideas—that it is possible to break free of the imperialist war and gain “peace without annexations and indemnities” without the dictatorship of the proletariat and the triumph of socialism, and that it is possible to secure the transfer of land to the people without compensation and establish “control” over production in the people’s interests without the same condition—these fundamental political (and, of course, economic) ideas of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks are, in practice, nothing but petty-bourgeois self-deception, or deception of the masses (the “majority”) by the bourgeoisie, which is the same thing.

That is our first and main “amendment” to the majority issue as understood by the petty-bourgeois democrats, socialists of the Louis Blanc type, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. What, in fact, is the value of a “majority” when a majority is in itself only a formal thing and when materially, in actual fact, that majority is a majority of the parties through which the bourgeoisie deceive the majority?

And, of course—and this leads us to our second “amendment”, to the second of the above-mentioned fundamental conditions—this deception can only be properly understood by ascertaining its class roots and class meaning. This is not self-deception, not (to put it bluntly) a “swindle”, but an illusory idea arising out of the economic situation in which a class finds itself. The petty-bourgeois is in such an economic position, the conditions of his life are such that he cannot help deceiving himself, he involuntarily and inevitably gravitates one minute towards the bourgeoisie, the next towards the proletariat. It is economically impossible for him to pursue an independent “line”.

His past draws him towards the bourgeoisie, his future towards the proletariat. His better judgement gravitates towards the latter, his prejudice(to use a familiar expression of Marx’s) towards the former. For the majority of the people to become an actual majority in state administration, the actual servant of the interests of the   majority, and the actual protector of its rights, and so on, a certain class condition is required, namely, that the majority of the petty bourgeoisie should join forces with the revolutionary proletariat, at least at the decisive moment and in the decisive place.

Without this, a majority is mere fiction which may prevail for a while, may glitter and shine, make a noise and reap laurels, but is absolutely and inevitably doomed to failure nonetheless. This, incidentally, was where the majority of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks came to grief, as the Russian revolution showed in July 1917.

Further, a revolution differs from a “normal” situation in the state precisely because controversial issues of state life are decided by the direct class and popular struggle to the point of armed struggle. It cannot be otherwise when the masses are free and armed. This fundamental fact implies that in time of revolution it is not enough to ascertain the “will of the majority”—you must prove to be stronger at the decisive moment and in the decisive place; you must win. Beginning with the Peasant War in the Middle Ages in Germany, and throughout all the big revolutionary movements and epochs, including 1848, 1871 and 1905, we have seen innumerable examples of the better organised, more politically-conscious and better armed minority forcing its will upon the majority and defeating it.

Frederick Engels particularly stressed the lesson to be drawn from experience, a lesson which to some degree is common to the peasant revolt of the sixteenth century and to the Revolution of 1848 in Germany, namely, disunity of action and lack of centralisation on the part of the oppressed owing to their petty-bourgeois status in life. Examining the matter from this point of view, we come to the same conclusion, namely, that a simple majority of the petty-bourgeois masses does not and cannot decide anything, for the disunited millions of rural petty proprietors can only acquire organisation, political consciousness in action and centralisation of action (which is indispensable for victory) when they are led either by the bourgeoisie or by the proletariat.

In the long run we know that the problems of social life are resolved by the class struggle in its bitterest and   fiercest form—civil war. In this war, as in any other war—a fact also well known and in principle not disputed by anyone—it is economics that decide. It is quite typical and significant that the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, while not denying this “in principle” and while realising perfectly the capitalist character of Russia today, dare not face the truth soberly. They are afraid to admit the truth that every capitalist country, including Russia, is basically divided into three main forces: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The first and third are spoken of and recognised by all. Yet the second—which really is the numerical majority!—nobody cares to appraise soberly, neither from the economic, political nor military point of view.

Truth does not flatter. That is why the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks shrink from recognising themselves.


When I was just beginning this article, the closing down of Pravda was merely an “incident”, one that had not yet been legalised by the government. But now, after July 16, the government has formally closed Pravda down.

If viewed historically and as a whole, throughout the process of its preparation and realisation, this measure casts a remarkably bright light on the “nature of the constitution” in Russia and on the danger of constitutional illusions.

It is known that the Cadet Party, headed by Milyukov and the newspaper Rech, has been demanding repressive measures against the Bolsheviks ever since April. This demand for repression, presented in various forms—from “statesman-like” articles in Rech to Milyukov’s repeated cries “Arrest them” (Lenin and other Bolsheviks)—has been one of the major components, if not the major component, of the Cadet political programme in the revolution.

The Cadet Party had been systematically, relentlessly and continuously demanding repressive measures against the Bolsheviks long before Alexinsky and Co. in June and July invented and fabricated the foully slanderous charge that the Bolsheviks were German spies or were receiving German money, and long before the equally slanderous   charge—running counter to generally known facts and published documents—of “armed uprising” or of “rebellion”. Since this demand has now been met, what are we to think of the honesty or intelligence of those who forget, or pretend to forget, the true class and party origin of this demand? How on earth can we help describing as crude falsification or incredible political stupidity the futile efforts of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks to make out they believe the “occasion” which presented itself on July 4 for the repressive measures against the Bolsheviks was an “accident” or an “isolated” incident? There must surely be a limit to the distortion of indisputable historical facts!

You have only to compare the movement of April 20–21 with that of July 3–4 to realise immediately that they are alike in character: both contained such objective facts as the spontaneous popular outburst of discontent, impatience and indignation, the provocative shots from the right, the killings on Nevsky, the slanderous outcries from the bourgeoisie, particularly the Cadets, to the effect that “it was the Lenin people who fired the shots on Nevsky”, the extreme aggravation and exacerbation of the struggle between the workers and the bourgeoisie, the utter confusion of the petty-bourgeois parties, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and the tremendous range of vacillation in their policy and in their approach to the issue of state power generally. June 9-10 and June 18 give us just the same class picture in a different form.

The course of events is as clear as can be: it shows growing popular discontent, impatience and indignation and an increasing aggravation of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, particularly for influence over the petty-bourgeois masses. Linked with this are two very important historical developments which have made the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks dependent on the counter-revolutionary Cadets. These developments are, first, the formation on May 6 of a coalition Cabinet in which the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks turned out to be the hangers-on of the bourgeoisie, getting them selves more and more into a tangle by making deals and agreements with the latter, rendering them thousands of   “services”, delaying the most essential revolutionary measures time and again; and secondly, the offensive at the front. The offensive inevitably implied the resumption of the imperialist war, a vast increase in the influence, weight and role of the imperialist bourgeoisie, the most widespread chauvinism among the people, and, last but not least[1] , the transfer of power—first military power and then state power generally—to the counter-revolutionary high-ranking army officers.

This was the course of historical events which between April 20–21 and July 3–4 deepened and sharpened class antagonisms, and which after July 4 enabled the counter revolutionary bourgeoisie to accomplish what on April 20–21 had stood out very clearly as their programme and tactics, their immediate aim and their “clean” methods, which were to lead to the achievement of that aim.

Nothing could be more pointless historically, more pitiful theoretically or more ridiculous practically than the philistine whining (echoed, incidentally, by L. Martov as well) over July 4, to the effect that the Bolsheviks “contrived” to defeat themselves, that this defeat came from their own “adventurism”, and so on, and so forth. All this whining, all these arguments to the effect that we “should not have” participated (in the attempt to lend a “peaceable and organised” character to the perfectly legitimate popular discontent and indignation!!), are either sheer apostasy, if coming from Bolsheviks, or the usual expression of the usual cowed and confused state of the petty bourgeoisie. In actual fact, the movement of July 3–4 grew out of the movement of April 20–21 and after as inevitably as summer follows spring. It was the imperative duty of the proletarian party to remain with the masses and try to lend as peaceable and organised a character as possible to their justified action rather than stand aside and wash its hands like Pontius Pilate, on the pedantic plea that the masses were not organised down to the last man and that their movement some times went to excesses—as though there had been no excesses on April 20–21, as though there had ever in history been a serious popular movement free of excesses!

The defeat of the Bolsheviks after July 4 followed with historical inevitability from the whole preceding course of events because on April 20–21 the petty-bourgeois masses and their leaders, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, were not yet tied by the offensive and had not yet got themselves into a tangle by their deals with the bourgeoisie in the “coalition Cabinet”, whereas by July 4 they had become so tied and entangled they could not but stoop to co-operation (in repressive measures, in slander, in butchery) with the counter-revolutionary Cadets. On July 4 the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks slid for good into the cesspool of counter-revolution; they had been steadily sliding towards it throughout May and June due to their role in the coalition Cabinet and their approval of the policy of offensive.

We may appear to have digressed from our subject, the closing down of Pravda, to a historical estimation of the events of July 4. But this only appears so, for the one can not be understood without the other. We have seen that, if we look into the matter and the interconnection of events, the closing down of Pravda, and the arrests and the other forms of persecution of the Bolsheviks are nothing but the realisation of the long-standing programme of the counter-revolutionaries, the Cadets in particular.

It would now be highly instructive to see who specifically carried out this programme, and by what means.

Let us have a look at the facts. On July 2–3 the movement was growing; the people were seething with indignation at government inaction, the high cost of living, economic dislocation and the offensive. The Cadets withdrew, playing a give-away game and presenting an ultimatum to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, leaving them, tied to power but lacking power, to pay for the people’s defeat and indignation.

On July 2–3 the Bolsheviks were trying to restrain the masses from action. This has been acknowledged even by an eyewitness from Dyelo Naroda, who reported on what took place in the Grenadier Regiment on July 2. On the evening of July 3, the movement overflowed its banks and the Bolsheviks drew up an appeal stressing that the movement must be “peaceable and organised”. On July 4, provocative   shots from the right increased the number of victims of the firing on both sides. It should be pointed out that the Executive Committee’s promise to investigate the incidents, to issue bulletins twice a day, etc., etc., has remained an empty promise! The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks did nothing whatsoever, they didn’t even publish a complete list of the dead on both sides!!

On the night of July 4 the Bolsheviks drew up an appeal to stop the action and Pravda printed it that same night. But that same night, firstly, counter-revolutionary troops began to arrive in Petrograd (apparently upon the summons or with the consent of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, of their Soviets—a “delicate” point regarding which, of course, the strictest silence is maintained even now when every bit of need for secrecy is past!). Secondly, that same night military cadets and suchlike, clearly acting upon instructions from Polovtsev, commanding, and from the General Staff, began raids on the Bolsheviks. On the night of July 4–5, Pravda’s office was raided. On July 5 and 6, its printers’, “Trud”, was wrecked; a worker named Voinov was murdered in broad daylight for carrying Listok “Pravdy” from the printers’; house searches and arrests were made among the Bolsheviks and the revolutionary regiments were disarmed.

Who started it all? Not the government or the Soviet, but the counter-revolutionary military gang grouped around the General Staff and acting in the name of the “counter intelligence service”, circulating the lies of Pereverzev and Alexinsky in order to stir up the army, and so on.

The government is absent. So are the Soviets; they are trembling for their own fate as they receive message after message that the Cossacks may come and smash them up. The Black Hundred and Cadet press, which led the hounding of the Bolsheviks, is beginning to hound the Soviets.

The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have bound themselves hand and foot by their entire policy. Being bound, they called (or tolerated the calling of) counter revolutionary troops to Petrograd. And that bound them even more. They have sunk to the very bottom of the foul counter-revolutionary cesspool. They cravenly dismissed their own commission, appointed to investigate the “case”   of the Bolsheviks. They basely betrayed the Bolsheviks to the counter-revolutionaries. They abjectly participated in the funeral procession of the Cossacks who were killed, and so kissed the hand of the counter-revolutionaries.

They are completely bound. They are at the bottom of the cesspool.

They try this, that and the other; they hand Kerensky the Cabinet, they go to Canossa to the Cadets, they organise a “Zemsky Sobor” or a “coronation” of the counter-revolutionary government in Moscow.[7] Kerensky dismisses Polovtsev.

But nothing comes of all those efforts. They in no way change the actual state of affairs. Kerensky dismisses Polovtstev, but at the same time gives shape and legality to Polovtsev’s measures and to his policy; he closes down Pravda, he introduces capital punishment for the soldiers, he bans meetings at the front, he continues to arrest Bolsheviks (even Kollontai!) in accordance with Alexinsky’s programme.

The “nature of the constitution” in Russia is coming out with striking clarity: the offensive at the front and the coalition with the Cadets in the rear have cast the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks into the cesspool of counter-revolution. In reality, state power is passing into the hands of the counter-revolutionaries, the military gang. Kerensky and the government of Tsereteli and Chernov are only a screen for it; they are compelled to legalise its measures, actions and policies post factum.

The haggling going on between the Cadets and Kerensky, Tsereteli and Chernov is of secondary importance, if not entirely unimportant. Whether the Cadets win in this haggling, or whether Tsereteli and Chernov hold out “alone”, will have no effect on the actual state of affairs. The fundamental, the main and decisive fact is that the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have swung over to the counter-revolutionaries (a swing forced by the policy they have been pursuing since May 6).

The cycle of party development is complete. The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have slid steadily downwards—from their expression of “confidence” in Kerensky on February 28 to May 6, which bound them to the   counter revolutionaries, and then to July 5, when they touched rock bottom.

A new period Is coming in. The victory of the counter revolutionaries is making the people disappointed with the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties and is paving the way for the masses to adopt a policy of support for the revolutionary proletariat.