Reflecting on the Russian Revolution

The Russian writer Konstantin Paustovsky famously remarked that the great Russian humanist intelligentsia, who included Pushkin and Herzen, Tolstoy and Chekov, knew how to create high spiritual values.

But, with few exceptions, they proved helpless at creating the organisation of a state. The Russian intelligentsia may not have been helpful, but there was enough collective wisdom in Russia to know what to do. 

As Antony Beevor has explored in his thoroughly researched and well-written book, Russia: Revolution and Civil War 1917-1921, after the collapse of the Tsarist state, Russia needed a Constituent Assembly. All the key decisions about laws, the political system and the ownership of land would be made by that gathering.

The Assembly’s membership was, in fact, determined by public vote. The Bolsheviks received only a quarter. Another party, the Social Revolutionary Party, received 38 per cent of the vote, although this party was split between the right-wing Social Revolutionaries and the left-wing members who voted with the Bolsheviks.

Early in the actual meeting of the Assembly, a Bolshevik delegate demanded that it recognise the All Russian Soviet as the Supreme Power.

Subsequent speakers studiously avoided the demand. The meeting dragged on. Lenin had stacked the visitors’ gallery with his supporters and instructed them to make their presence felt, which they loudly did.

Late in the proceedings, a Bolshevik delegate announced that, by refusing to acknow...

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