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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The Declaration of the Rights of Toiling and Exploited People - January 17, 1918

The historic Soviet Declaration of the Rights of Toiling and Exploited People was first published on January 17, 1918 (new calendar) in Izvestia. It was read out (by Yakov Sverdlov) at the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly on January 18 and was approved by the Third All-Russia Congress of Soviets on January 25 and subsequently formed the basis of the Soviet Constitution.

As USSR Magazine noted in 1963:

January 17, 1918. The Declaration of the Rights of Toiling and Exploited People was published. It was one of the most important constitutional acts of the Soviet Republic and legislatively confirmed the victories of the October Socialist Revolution. It set forth the major tasks of Soviet power -- to abolish all exploitation of man by man, to eliminate completely the division of society into classes, to establish a socialist society. The Declaration gave legislative recognition to the fact that state power was in the hands of the working people, abolished private ownership of land and nationalized the banks. It proclaimed peaceful coexistence as the basic principle of the Soviet state's foreign policy. In July 1918 the Declaration was incorporated into the Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Republic.

Full declaration:

The Constituent Assembly resolves:

I. 1. Russia is hereby proclaimed a Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. All power, centrally and locally, is vested in these Soviets.

2. The Russian Soviet Republic is established on the principle of a free union of free nations, as a federation of Soviet national republics.

II. Its fundamental aim being to abolish all exploitation of man by man, to completely eliminate the division of society into classes, to mercilessly crush the resistance of the exploiters, to establish a socialist organisation of society and to achieve the victory of socialism in all countries, the Constituent Assembly further resolves:

1. Private ownership of land is hereby abolished. All land together with all buildings, farm implements and other appurtenances of agricultural production, is proclaimed the property of the entire working people.

2. The Soviet laws on workers’ control and on the Supreme Economic Council are hereby confirmed for the purpose of guaranteeing the power of the working people over the exploiters and as a first step towards the complete conversion of the factories, mines, railways, and other means of production and transport into the property of the workers’ and peasants’ state.

3. The conversion of all banks into the property of the workers’ and peasants’ state is hereby confirmed as one of the conditions for the emancipation of the working people from the yoke of capital.

4. For the purpose of abolishing the parasitic sections of society, universal labour conscription is hereby instituted.

5. To ensure the sovereign power of the working people, and to eliminate all possibility of the restoration of the power of the exploiters, the arming of the working people, the creation of a socialist Red Army of workers and peasants and the complete disarming of the propertied classes are hereby decreed.

III. 1. Expressing its firm determination to wrest mankind from the clutches of finance capital and imperialism, which have in this most criminal of wars drenched the world in blood, the Constituent Assembly whole-heartedly endorses the policy pursued by Soviet power of denouncing the secret treaties, organising most extensive fraternisation with the workers and peasants of the armies in the war, and achieving at all costs, by revolutionary means, a democratic peace between the nations, without annexations and indemnities and on the basis of the free self-determination of nations.

2. With the same end in view, the Constituent Assembly insists on a complete break with the barbarous policy of bourgeois civilisation, which has built the prosperity of the exploiters belonging to a few chosen nations on the enslavement of hundreds of millions of working people in Asia, in the colonies in general, and in the small countries.

The Constituent Assembly welcomes the policy of the Council of People’s Commissars in proclaiming the complete independence of Finland, commencing the evacuation of troops from Persia, and proclaiming freedom of self-determination for Armenia.

3. The Constituent Assembly regards the Soviet law on the cancellation of the loans contracted by the governments of the tsar, the landowners and the bourgeoisie as a first blow struck at international banking, finance capital, and expresses the conviction that Soviet power will firmly pursue this path until the international workers’ uprising against the yoke of capital has completely triumphed.

IV. Having been elected on the basis of party lists drawn up prior to the October Revolution, when the people were not yet in a position to rise en masse against the exploiters, had not yet experienced the full strength of resistance of the latter in defence of their class privileges, and had not yet applied themselves in practice to the task of building socialist society, the Constituent Assembly considers that it would be fundamentally wrong, even formally, to put itself in opposition to Soviet power.

In essence the Constituent Assembly considers that now, when the people are waging the last fight against their exploiters, there can be no place for exploiters in any government body. Power must be vested wholly and entirely in the working people and their authorised representatives—the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies.

Supporting Soviet power and the decrees of the Council of People’s Commissars, the Constituent Assembly considers that its own task is confined to establishing the fundamental principles of the socialist reconstruction of society.

At the same time, endeavouring to create a really free and voluntary, and therefore all the more firm and stable, union of the working classes of all the nations of Russia, the Constituent Assembly confines its own task to setting up the fundamental principles of a federation of Soviet Republics of Russia, while leaving it to the workers and peasants of each nation to decide independently at their own authoritative Congress of Soviets whether they wish to participate in the federal government and in the other federal Soviet institutions, and on what terms.



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