First response to the 1918 constitution of the SFSR

Submitted by hadrian on Tue, 03/04/2014 - 00:00

One of the greatest tragedies in the history of the world is the failure of the Russian October Revolution. As so many revolutions, it started in an attempt to regain freedom from oppression but only turned another group into an oppressor. Another revolution with such a terrible outcome was the first French revolution. The Russian revolution was also a revolution which saw the quick rise of a series of worker's councils and organisation of the country under these councils. One of the best-known quotes of Lenin was: `All power to the Soviets!'

Nevertheless, in spite of some lofty ideals and great hope, for a popular revolution requires hope for a better future more than anything else, the country quickly fell into a brutal dictatorship and eventually turned into Stalin's totalitarian rule. The great purges make Stalin's rule one of the most brutal in the history of the world, a rule matched by that of Hitler. One of the great questions I have is why so many revolutions turn out so badly. In order to do this I want to try to get as close to the sources of the actual Russian revolution and one of the first documents I've come across was the 1918 constitution. So far I've only given it a cursory reading which has already shown, to my opinion, several errors in judgement.

The first, major, error in judgement is the abolition of free suffrage. If we are to believe John Reed's Soviets in Action the Russian Bourgeoisie would have been allowed to participate in the Soviet government for several months. This, however, ended when this constitution was signed. There were also other groups which were excluded to vote including those who are considered mentally deficient and those who have had their rights remanded because of selfish or dishonourable offenses. In my opinion, any curtailing of voting rights, with the possible exception of a reasonable minimum age, is death to any democracy just as much as any revolution.

The way voting rights are restricted brings me to a second problem with this constitution, namely the absence of anything with respect to a legal organisation. The constitution does not define any courts nor does it define any rights or restrictions to a judicial force. It is possible this stems from the belief that the local, Volost or Rayori, Soviets could handle such issues. The main problem is of course that such lack of judicial restrictions to the power of any soviet causes a dangerous precedent in which entire groups can be excluded from the participation in government.

The third major problem I wish to discuss after this cursory reading are the large amount of inherent contradictions. For example, the first article of chapter sixteen eliminates private property rights yet the third article of that same chapter mentions the ability of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets or the All-Russian Central Executive Committee to set taxation. It seems entirely contradictory for me to mention the ability of taxing someone who legally has no possessions. The entire constitution is riddled with contradictions.

On the basis of this constitution alone one should be able to predict that the SFSR was going to be unstable. A system of soviets is, as John Reed rightly puts it, the most sensitive and responsive to popular will. Indeed, even Thomas Jefferson described local communities wards which should be given a little power and then show to what these wards are best capable of. It was Hannah Arendt who stated that such a system would be able to break up pseudo-political mass movement and allow an interested group to take on public responsibilities. I already have more comments on the 1918 constitution but I'd prefer to read it again and consult some other sources before making more authoritative statements.