In November 1917, the Bolshevik Party led Russian workers, peasants and soldiers in taking power in the name of the Soviets, which were councils of working people. The Soviets were born of struggle, and had for the previous few months been a dual power, contending with the Kerensky Provisional Government.
The Provisional Government had come to power in the February Revolution, which overthrew the autocratic Tsarist regime. It was the workers and peasants who had led the action and as soldiers they had seized power under the slogan Bread, Peace and Land. The Kerensky government was however capitalist, and its commitment to ending the War faded.
Soldiers, the sons of working people, were dying in their thousands, and hunger and hardship effected their families. The Bolsheviks proposed that all power should move to the Soviets. Clearly the capitalists were not going to give power to the workers and peasants. Power was taken on the 7th November and the Soviets were declared to be the supreme ruling body on the 8th November.
The October Bolshevik Revolution was a world altering event. Working people became masters of their country. Russia was declared a republic of the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies, and all power both central and local belonged to these Soviets. In order to counter the Tsarist oppression of national groupings, the Soviet Republic was organised on the basis of a free federation of Soviet national republics.
By January 1918 a constitution had been adopted. This was based on the practical experience of worldwide working class struggle over decades and the struggles of Russia’s workers, peasants and soldiers over the previous year. The aims of the Bolsheviks and the Soviets were stated as the abolition of the exploitation of classes, the suppression of exploiters, and the establishment of a socialist society, as well as the victory of socialism in all lands.
The Constitution called for the abolition of private land ownership; all land was declared to be national property. This included forests and treasures of the earth and waters which were to be used as general public utilities. All agricultural equipment and livestock was to become national property. There was to be a complete transfer of ownership to the Soviet Republic of all factories, mills, mines, railways, and other means of production and transportation.
Loans made by the Tsarist government, by landowners and the bourgeoisie were all annulled. The influence of international financial institutions ended and all banks were brought into the ownership of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.
Russia would seek to pull out of the war by making peace. It would oppose colonialism, a barbarous policy of the bourgeoisie which enables the enslavement of millions of working people. Workers had a right and a duty to protect the Soviet Republic and Socialism; they were to be armed and a Red Army maintained.
Every body was expected to work – ‘those who do not work, neither shall they eat’. There was to be no place for parasitic capitalist, land-owning or financier classes. Those who by virtue of age, infirmity or disability were unable to work would receive the same rights of citizenship as those who worked.
Workers and peasants over 17 years had the rights of citizens, including those of voting and standing in elections, regardless of gender or nationality. Voters who had sent a representative to the Soviets had the right of recall.
In order to protect the millions of working people against the casual criminality, oppression and squandering of former exploiters, those of the propertied class were to be disarmed and they would not be allowed to take part in any branch of government or vote in elections.
Those who are familiar with the constitutions of our trades unions will find the structures of Soviet government familiar; there are parallels in the system of representatives going forward to higher bodies, the role of executive committees and the relationship between local organisations and the centre.