The immediate calling of the Constituent Assembly had been one of Lenin's main slogans from April to November 1917. One of the most serious charges made against the Provisional Government by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the entire Bolshevik Press was that it did not intend to hold elections for this legislative body. Time and again Lenin had promised that when the Bolsheviks took power the Assembly would be speedily convened.
On 5 November 1917, two days before the Bolshevik coup, Stalin wrote in Pravda: "Having overthrown the Tsar, the people thought that within two or three months the Constituent Assembly would be summoned. But the convocation of the Constituent Assembly has already been postponed once and its foes are preparing for its final destruction. Why? Because in power sit enemies of the people, for whom the timely convocation of the Constituent Assembly is not profitable."
The Bolshevik pledge was plain enough. But the Bolshevik leaders were well aware that the elections, scheduled by the Provisional Government for 25 November, would not give them control of the Constituent Assembly. On the other hand, after having taken power they could not flatly repudiate their promise.
"On the very first day, if not the first hour of the Revolution," relates Trotsky, "Lenin brought up the question of the Constituent Assembly. "We must postpone the elections. We must extend the right of suffrage to those who have reached their maturity (eighteen years). We must outlaw the adherents of Kornilov and the Cadets", said Lenin.
"We tried to argue with him that it would not look right. We ourselves had accused the Provisional Government of delaying the elections to the Constituent Assembly.
"Nonsense," Lenin replied. "It is facts that are important, not words."
Despite considerable Bolshevik coercion, the election results were even worse than Lenin had expected. In the overwhelming majority of electoral districts. the elections were held on 25 November 1917 - more than a fortnight after the Bolshevik seizure of power. In other districts, the voting took place on 1 and 7 December.
Nevertheless, in a total vote of 41,686,000, the Bolsheviks received only 9,844,000 - less than 25 per cent of the electorate. The Socialist Revolutionaries received 17,490,000; Ukrainian Socialist parties (mostly allied with the Socialist Revolutionaries) 4,957,000; Mensheviks 1,248,000; Constitutional Democrats 1,986,000; candidates of Moslem parties and other national minorities some 3,300,000. Of 707 deputies, the Socialist Revolutionaries elected 370, a clear majority; the Bolsheviks only 175; the pro-Lenin Left Socialist Revolutionaries 40; Cadets 17, Mensheviks 16, national minority groups and others 99. The Russian people, in the freest election in their history, voted for moderate democratic socialism against Lenin and against the bourgeoisie.
From the standpoint of Soviet public relations, no more disastrous result was possible. A "reactionary" victory would have been easier to handle. But Lenin was prepared, even for this.
On 10 December 1917, the Bolsheviks arrested Pavel Dolgorukov, Fyodor Kokoshkin and Andrey Shingarev, Cadet deputies to the Constituent Assembly. Three days later, they issued a decree proclaiming Cadet leaders "enemies of the people", subject to arrest and trial by revolutionary tribunals. The decree nevertheless concluded with the statement that `the country can be saved only by a Constituent Assembly made up of representatives of the labouring and exploited classes of the people".
In spite of this assurance, a few days later the Bolsheviks arrested a number of prominent Socialist Revolutionaries who had been elected to the Constituent Assembly. These included Nicolai Avksentvev, chairman of the All-Russian Soviet of Peasant Deputies, Andrey Argunov, Alexander Gukovsky, Pitirim Sorokin and others. Many other Socialist leaders escaped arrest only by going into hiding.