Students played out “Pre-election debates for the Constituent Assembly 1917”

24.04.2017
Students played out “Pre-election debates for the Constituent Assembly 1917”
On 22 April the Moscow State University of Foreign Affairs  (MGIMO) hosted the business role-playing historical game on “Pre-election debates for the Constituent Assembly 1917” which was part of the project of the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called titled “Russia 1917. Images of the future”.  

Students of three universities – Lomonosov MSU, MGIMO and Moscow State Regional University – represented different parties and movements that existed in 1917: Socialists-Revolutionaries, Cadets, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Octobrists and Royalists. In order to present all the details of the political process of the time the game included parties which in fact were not elected to the real Constituent Assembly (Octobrists, Anarchists, Royalists). The jury consisted of well-known scientists and public figures: Mikhail Myagkov, Director of Science at the Russian Military-Historical Society, Doctor of Historical Sciences; Victoria Ukolova, Head of Department of World and Russian History, Doctor of Historical Sciences; Vladimir Bushuyev,  Director of the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called; Vardan Bagdasaryan, Dean of the Faculty of History, Political Science and Law at the Moscow State Regional University,  Doctor of Historical Sciences; Marianna Abramova, Deputy Head of Department of State Policy of the Faculty of Political Science at Lomonosov MSU, and others.

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Following the game the jury had to choose the best prepared and the most creative team. The audience also had to vote in designated voting sheets that had been disseminated at the beginning of the game; they voted for the team whose political slogans seemed to be more to the point. The team with the most votes won the game. According to the audience voting the Bolsheviks were the winners. The jury chose the Bolsheviks too, but later they made the decision to distinguish individual winners – the students who played the roles of Vladimir Lenin, Lev Trotsky, Nestor Makhno and Carl Faberge. The jury also distinguished Stanislav Kabayev, a student from MGIMO, who represented Victor Chernov, one of the leaders of Socialists-Revolutionaries.

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A business role-playing game was created in 1930s as a tool to look for managerial solutions in the uncertain and multi-factor environment. Currently a business game is also used as an educational tool. In reality it resembles students’ humorous games: students wear historical outfits, study the certain epoch in detail and play out the historical situation following the opinions of the characters of those times. A business game is different from reenactment as the result of the game may not correspond to true historical facts. But a game with costumes helps students get deeply involved in the history, try to face the events from a textbook and learn the epoch in details.

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The participants of the historical game “Pre-election debates for the Constituent Assembly” coped with the task perfectly. Bolsheviks prepared posters and a banner; they were wearing leather jackets of revolutionary style; Nikita Shpak was “on duty” at the hall representing sailor Zheleznyak  and holding a rifle (that was the sailor who in real 1917 dismissed the Constituent Assembly). However the “sailor” appeared to be of a philosophic kind. He said that we should always sympathize with Russia and not with political parties, particularly at that hardest time in the country. Remarkably, Lenin and Trotsky were presented by girls. And they were very convincing. While the leaders were having a speech from a rostrum, other members of the Bolshevik party were standing on the stage holding the banner, protected by Mauser guns of revolutionary sailors. Shootings were often the answers to the questions from opponents.

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Initially the parties’ representatives were going to discuss four questions: agrarian, national, military and the prospects of social-political order, as in 1917 Russia was still involved in the WWI. The students were so well-prepared for the game that there was not enough time to discuss all the questions: each party had an extended presentation.  Prior to the game there was a preliminary stage: for two weeks representatives of every party together with their mentor had been learning materials and historical sources to get information about their party. As a result the three hours of  the discussion were not enough and they managed to discuss only two questions out of four: agrarian and the social-political order.  

Before the discussion the audience received voting sheets and after the presentations the voting was held. The voting participants had to choose from seven parties: “Constitutional-Democratic Party” (Cadets), “The Union of October 17” (Octobrists), “Russian Social-Democratic Party of Workers” (Bolsheviks), “Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries”, Royalists and Anarchists. All the parties had great presentations but just like it happened in 1917 the Bolsheviks were louder than others. As a result they won after the final voting.

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Moreover, it appeared that many members of the “Bolshevik” team chose this party not due to its ideology but in order to study the position of the party better. For instance, Anya Grigoryeva, who played Lev Trotsky, told us that it was interesting for her to defend the point of view which in fact is opposite to her own views. In the student’s opinion, Constitutional Monarchy could have been the most appropriate political order for Russia. “But logically thinking, I understand that due to the historical realities it couldn’t have happened” – she said.  

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Ekaterina Kurbat who studies Arabian at the Faculty of International Relations at MGIMO also represented the Bolsheviks not due to their ideology. “I decided to take part in the game and to support the Bolsheviks to understand their way of thinking, to learn their ideology grounds better” – she explained. According to the student, to read Lenin is already a success. 

Ruslan who represented Nestor Makhno, the anarchist who Bolsheviks released from the Butyrka prison,  said that he liked his character after watching “Nine lives of Nestor Makhno”, the TV series he saw in childhood. According to Ruslan, Makhno was interesting for him because of his courage and dedication. At the same time, for Yegor Spirin, who represented the Anarchists, the Marxist movements seemed to be not properly developed whereas the anarchism seemed to be the true  socialistic movement. “Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin are the men of genius of their time. They could set their ideas against the ideas of Marx and Engels” – he stated. According to Yegor, the party had a proper presentation and managed to  present their ideas in the reasonable way. Anarchists ranked second after the final voting, following the Bolsheviks.

Not everyone chose the winners. For instance, Alexey chose to represent Carl Faberge from “The Union of October 17” just because he didn’t want to be a renowned politician of those times. According to the student, he wanted to try the role of a recognizable and bright person; and Faberge was a creative man. At the same time Alexey supports the ideas of Carl Faberge who after the revolution declared that “everything is dead and the life no longer exists”.

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One more participant of the discussion – Daniil who played the role of Mikhail Rodzyanko – deliberately chose to support the centrist position when he learnt that the students were divided into two groups: the Bolsheviks and the Royalists. “It was a very interesting event. It would be great to have such games in the future. Most of all I liked the performances of the Mensheviks and the Royalists. The Bolsheviks had a very good presentation as it looked like a theatre performance. They were shouting loud, but their arguments were quite weak. I was also surprised to see populism of the Royalists” – he said after the game. The young people from the Moscow State Regional University who chose to be Royalists also expressed their desire to repeat this experience in the future. Dmitry Avinnikov admitted that he was a loner and the game helped him develop social contacts and get to know fellows from other universities. According to Dmitry, the role of the Royalists is diminished in the Soviet historiography, and the Black Hundreds are treated as fascists, which in his opinion was not true.

 

The report by Olga Zyabko