In her new book, Mass Political Culture Under Stalinism: Popular Discussion of the Soviet Constitution of 1936
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), Olga Velikanova
uses a variety of sources, from NKVD reports, reports sent to the Central Committee from various Soviet regions and even American intelligence reports to explore the rational behind the liberal reforms enshrined in the 1936 constitution. She discovered that the Soviet leadership implemented these reforms because they believed the country had ascended into socialism and the divisions in society had largely been erased. But during the discussion of the draft constitution, popular suggestions revealed great divisions in soviet society. Velikanova focuses specifically on liberal rights such as free speech and assembly as well as judicial and voting reforms. She notes that Soviet citizens were in favor of more rights for themselves but many vociferously rejected the expanded franchise, which would give former class enemies voting rights. Additionally, because Stalin had called for limited popular democracy to be a weapon against incompetent and corrupt officials local and regional officials often delayed or even purposely sabotaged the discussion of the constitution. The rifts in society revealed in the popular suggestions and regional officials poor attitude towards the discussion contributed to the constitution being quickly castrated in 1937 as repression gripped the country and devoured both the party elite and average citizens. Velikanova’s book explores how this failure to keep constitutional promises led to citizens’ disillusionment with the government and a rising popular cynicism that eventually led to the collapse of the USSR.
Samantha Lomb is an Assistant Professor at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. Her research focuses on daily life, local politics and political participation in the Stalinist 1930s. Her book,
Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the Draft 1936 Constitution, is now available online. Her research can be viewed here.