Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution
New Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network December 21, 2017 Marshall Poe
If any place (outside contemporary North Korea) can be called “Totalitarian,” it would be Stalinist Russia. Under the “Greatest Genius of All Time,” Soviet “citizens” enjoyed no free speech, no free press, and no free assembly. The one-party Bolshevik dictatorship deprived them of their voices, their property, their livelihoods, their liberty, and often their lives all in the name of building a kind of society—Communism—that existed only in the minds of Party theoreticians.
To me at least, it seems odd that such a place would even have something called a “constitution.” What use is a constitution when there is no real law? But the USSR had several constitutions. In her excellent book Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution (Routledge, 2017), Samantha Lomb describes how one of them was received in the provinces and discussed by Party officials and the populous. She finds some remarkable things, the most important of which to my mind is that the people of Kirov (or at least the important ones who were consulted) were—much like the tyrannical state that ruled over them—not much interested in things like “equal rights” or, more generally, the “rule of law.” Under the Bolsheviks they had evolved a way of doing things that involved neither of these things and they were fine with that. Listen in.