Initially, soviet rule was implemented through a multiparty system. Bolsheviks, as well as delegates from various Menshevik and SR factions and anarchists and activists not affiliated with any party, had voice and vote in all sessions of soviets. Freedom of press and assembly flourished in the general political life of the country. An executive body of government was established, the Council of People’s Commissars, with Lenin at its head. It was responsible to the Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets, which was elected by the periodic meetings of the Congress of Soviets. The delegates to the Congress, in turn, were elected from various regional and local bodies and could be replaced easily if they failed to satisfy the worker and peasant voters.
The new government proclaimed Russia a soviet republic. The regime made a number of far-reaching decisions consistent with revolutionary ideals. It decided to withdraw Russia from World War I and validated the peasants’ seizure and redistribution of land. It also affirmed the right to self-determination of all oppressed nationalities.
The new government established policies to advance equal rights for women, to create government control of all banks, and to bring about workers’ control of industry. It moved to provide health care, education, and housing to all as a matter of right. It decreed the separation of church and state, ending privileges of the Russian Orthodox Church, with freedom of worship for believers of all denominations. The regime also decided that members of the government would not have incomes higher than those of common skilled laborers.
The decisions of the Congress of Soviets on peace and land evoked widespread support for the new government, and they were decisive in assuring victory to the Bolsheviks in other cities and in the provinces.
In proclaiming the right of self-determination, the Council of People’s Commissars made it clear that it hoped the “toiling masses” of the various nationalities would decide to remain part of Russia. Among the Bolsheviks, a controversy flared up over whether Mensheviks and Right SRs should be invited to join the Council of People’s Commissars. A majority of Bolsheviks agreed with Lenin and Trotsky that it made little sense to seek a coalition with those who opposed the Soviet government. On the other hand, there was agreement on including Left SRs. The Cadet party was outlawed, and some restrictions on freedom of the press were imposed. Bolshevik leaders argued that these measures were justified by the proliferation of counterrevolutionary activities among those opposed to the new regime. To deal with such activities, the government set up a special police unit, the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Speculation and Sabotage. This unit was known as the Cheka, from the initials of the Russian words for “extraordinary commission.” Initially, however, people generally viewed the new Soviet government as being radically democratic. Another controversy arose over the Constituent Assembly, for which the Provisional Government had promised to hold elections.
This assembly was supposed to oversee the development of a constitution that would establish a new democratic governmental structure for Russia. For months all the revolutionary parties and the soviets had been pressuring the Provisional Government to hold the elections. The Provisional Government had finally made arrangements to hold the elections on November 12, 13, and 14. The Bolshevik Revolution had occurred in the meantime, so there was some confusion over whether and how to hold the elections.
The new Soviet government allowed the elections to be held, despite doubts about how accurately the elections would reflect popular support for the October Revolution. The lists of candidates had been made up before the October split of the SRs into Left SRs and Right SRs. The SRs had the support of the peasants, and more Right SR than Left SR candidates appeared on ballots in rural areas. In the elections the Bolsheviks won overwhelmingly in urban areas and working-class districts, but they failed to win a majority of the peasant votes, which went to the SRs. So when the Constituent Assembly convened on January 5, 1918, it had a majority of delegates who opposed soviet power. On the next day, the Soviet government—with the full and active support not only of the Bolsheviks (who had since renamed themselves Communists), but also Left SRs, anarchists, and some former Mensheviks—declared the Constituent Assembly dissolved. The regime proclaimed that the soviets alone represented the democratic will of the Russian masses. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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