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The Constitution of the RSFSR 1918

Adopted by the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets on July 10th, 1918. The birth of the Soviet State was accompanied with the appearance of the Declaration of Rights of Working and Exploited People adopted on January 25th, 1918, by the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets. It was included into the wording of the first Soviet Constitution and is now the monument of law. Certain authors directly call the declaration the first document of Soviet Russia having a constitutional nature.

Starting from the first day of its existence, the Soviet State has published a whole number of constitutional laws. These include decrees On Peace and On Land, Decree on Court etc., Appeal of the Petrograd Military and Revolutionary Committee to Russian Nationals and Appeal of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets to Workers, Soldiers and Peasants. But forms of power and management were formed largely chaotically. To streamline this process and establish the forms that met the basics of the new statehood, there was a need in an official Constitution. Its creation was a breakthrough in the establishment of the Soviet State.

But let’s get back to history. On July 10th, 1918, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets as the supreme authority of the new power resulting from a coup d’etat adopted the Principal Law that set out the principles on which the Soviet power relied, the form of governance, territorial structure, relations between the authorities and the people, national symbols. It was in essence the first formal constitution in the history of the Russian state, presented in a single regulation. Adoption of the RSFSR Constitution of 1918 was preceded by a complicated combat for its content. The Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets that took place in January 1918 put forward the drafting of the RSFSR Constitution as one of the primary objectives for Soviet power.

However, due to aggravation of the international situation in February/March 1918 (termination of peace negotiations in Brest Litovsk with Germany and advance of the German army), as well as complication of the internal situation in Soviet Russia, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Government focused on preserving the Soviet system. The operations of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee to draft the Constitution were temporarily postponed.

And it was only after approval of the Brest Peaceful Agreement, the Soviet power became able to engage in arranging for systemic and daily governmental management of all fields of social construction.

On March 30th, 1918, the Workers’ and Peasant’s Party Central Committee recommended that the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the fourth convention establish the Constitutional Commission that comprised 15 persons and included: from the All-Russian Executive Committee Bolshevik faction, Ya.M. Sverdlov, M.N. Pokrovsky, I.V. Stalin; from the Left Esser faction, D.A. Magerovsky and A.A. Shreider; from the maximalist faction, A.I. Berdnikov (with advisory vote), and also representatives of people’s commissariats for nationalities, justice, finance, military affairs, internal affairs and agriculture. During the first organizational meeting of the commission held on April 5th, 1918, Ya.M. Sverdlov was elected chairman.

On April 19th, 1918, three drafts were voted at the meeting of the commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee – drafts of Bolsheviks, M.A. Reisner, Essers/Maximalists. The commission adopted the Bolshevik’s draft. Any further work on sections of the draft was conducted by three sub-commissions.

Work of the commission was performed in the environment of struggle between factions. The struggle started, first of all, in connection with the issue on the proletarian dictatorship – the main constitutional principle. Left Essers voted against establishing the proletarian dictatorship in the Constitution.

The Draft Constitution of the Working Republic presented by maximalist essers also denied the idea of proletarian dictatorship. Such standpoint was held on a number of principal issues by Left Communists who, in the essence, also denied the need in the transitional period from capitalism to socialism and the need in the strong state of proletarian dictatorship.

The anarcho-syndicalist concept of Left Communists was recorded in the draft of the Basics of Constitution developed by Professor M.A. Reisner.

Reisner’s draft was opposed by the document named Theses on the Federation Type drafted with participation of Ya.M. Sverdlov and I.V. Stalin.

These theses formed a basis for the Draft of General Provisions of the RSFSR Constitution that, after a detailed discussion in the Commission, was included as an integral part to the final wording of the first Soviet Constitution. These ideas underlay the Bolshevik’s draft of the General Provisions of RSFSR Constitution approved of by the Constitution Commission on April 19th, 1918.

The final development of the Constitution draft for its presentation to the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets was assigned to a dedicated commission of the Workers” and Peasants“ Party Central Committee headed by V.I. Lenin. On July 3rd, 1918, this commission headed by V.I. Lenin reviewed two drafts – that of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee’s Commission by introducing certain provisions from the People’s Committee of Justice’s draft into it. At the proposal of V.I. Lenin, the Declaration of Rights of Working and Exploited People was included into the Constitution (as introduction) and also a number of articles was added.

The RSFSR Constitution was adopted by the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets that opened on July 4th, 1918, in Moscow, in the Bolshoy Theater. 1164 delegates arrived at the Congress, with the right of casting vote. They included 773 Communists, 352 Left Essers, 32 delegates from other parties. At the final meeting, the congress heard a report on the draft Constitution and approved the draft.

In its resolution as to adoption of the Constitution (Principal Law) of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, congress wrote: “The Declaration of Rights of Working and Exploited People as approved at the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets in January 1918, together with the Constitution of the Soviet Republic approved by the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, represent the single Principal Law of the Russian Soviet Federal Republic”. The final version of the Constitution was assigned by the Congress to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. The edited wording of the Constitution was published on July 19th, 1918. Since that time, the Principal Law of RSFSR took effect.

The first Constitution comprised 6 sections, 17 chapters and 90 articles.

So, the country received its first Principal Law.


© | 2023 The handwritten copy of the Constitution of the Russian Federation