Ted Grant

Meaning of Russia’s new Constitution

Written: May 1962
Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 4 no. 4 (May 1962)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup/Proofread: Manuel 2008

The preparations to introduce a new constitution in Russia are an indication of the stirrings taking place beneath the surface calm of the totalitarian system inside the Soviet Union.

The first constitution of the Soviet Union was a revolutionary document which tried to place full power in the hands of the working class through the Soviets. By this means in a ‘semi-state’ the rule of the working class or in Marxian terms the dictatorship of the proletariat was to be wielded. This was intended to be the most revolutionary and democratic doctrine in history. In the early days of the revolution it was realised at least in part.

Stalinist Constitution

After the Stalinist reaction there came the introduction of the Stalinist Constitution declared by its authors to be the “most democratic in the world.” This constitution, even formally, was a step backward in comparison with the flexible instrument of the past. It established ‘parliamentarianism’ on the capitalist model.

Of course in words it was very democratic. The only thing prohibited in Russia would have been an attempt to exercise the rights declared in the Constitution and enshrined in its clauses. The right to vote for the person of one’s choice, free speech and press, freedom of the individual and all other freedoms were established on paper. But they went side by side with one of the bloodiest purges, or one-sided civil wars in the history of man. Practically the whole of the Bolshevik leadership which carried out the revolution was murdered. Hundreds of thousands and even millions of workers and peasants were drafted forcibly to Siberia to work as slave labour.

Totalitarian elections

The most ghastly farce were the totalitarian elections with but a single candidate, ‘a free choice’ where the electors voted for the picked tools of the ruling bureaucracy. It was in these years that there was the abolition of equality, or to be exact, the strict limitation of privileges, including the fact that no official was to have a higher wage than a skilled workman. The idea of equality was declared a capitalist prejudice. The uncontrolled bureaucracy greedily grabbed a bigger and bigger share of the national income for themselves, at the expense of the ordinary workers and peasants. The Stalinist constitution was their constitution. The real crowning of the constitution was the last ‘election’ before the war when ‘Stalin the Great’ revealed himself as a true magician by receiving more than 105 per cent of the votes in his constituency! This is a fitting comment on the farce of the constitution.

However undoubtedly in the Bonapartist, or dictatorial system in the Soviet Union the Stalinist constitution was originally intended as a check and brake on the worst excesses of the uncontrolled bureaucrats. It was intended to be a whip in the hands of the autocrat Stalin, who was not averse to leaning on the working class on occasions, as all other Bonapartist dictators have done, and occasionally giving blows to the officialdom, the heads of the Party, civil service, armed forces and the general administrative hierarchy, which also included the newly privileged managers and other controllers of industry. They threatened to devour the state with their privileges, greed and corruption. Hence the Stalinist constitution was originally intended to be a system of checks and balances. It was not only intended to be window dressing. However in this purpose it was bound to fail for the specific reason, that turning from one solution of their problems to another, the bureaucracy could not admit that they were becoming a hindrance and an anachronism. With the development of Soviet Society, they dare not allow the slightest suggestion of real workers democracy and control by the workers themselves.

Growth [of] Soviet economy

With the growth of Soviet economy the development of industry, the technical competence of the working class, the education and culture of the working people has enormously increased. Moreover from a society of mainly peasant, and peasant-worker composition, the working class of 60 million has become a decisive potential force in Soviet Society. Its silent pressure permeates Soviet society.

Moreover an additional reason, perhaps decisive, for the Krushchev reforms and the de-Stalinisation of recent years has been the fact that the Bureaucracy itself has become more and more alarmed as it has realised that it is the main impediment to the development of production at higher levels than at present. By its uncontrolled squandering and speculation; by its bureaucratic inefficiency, it holds up the full and free development of Soviet society which could only be harmonious with the participation and control at all levels of industry and government by the working class themselves.

Kruschev plagiarises Stalin

Now Krushchev has announced a new constitution which plagiarising the Stalinist constitution is to be “the most democratic in the world.” Krushchev in his speech on the subject said, “To reflect the new stage in the development of Soviet Society and the State; to raise Socialist democracy to an even higher level; to create even firmer guarantees of the democratic rights and freedoms of the working people, guarantees of the strict observance of Socialist legality and to prepare the conditions for the transition to public self-government.” As a gesture to the imperialists abroad, “peaceful co-existence” is to be written into the Constitution.

The purpose of the Constitution is allegedly to advance the victory of Communism, “Socialism” and the rule of the working class having been left far behind. In reality this Constitution has the same aims as the Constitution originally drafted by Stalin. The Krushchev bureaucracy have become alarmed at the unparalleled scope of corruption and nepotism in high places, the most scandalous of which occasionally seep into the Soviet press, the peculation and graft of hundreds of thousands and even on occasions millions of pounds. Krushchev in the name of advancing to Communism is trying to introduce some checks and balances on the voracious caste which he represents. In vain! It will turn out to be as futile and hopeless as the Stalinist constitution of the past. This is indicated by the draconic laws, including reintroduction of the death penalty for hooliganism, peculation, swindling, theft of State property, etc. The tirades in the official press against the violence of a section of the youth, aping the parrot cries of the capitalists when criticising Youth. They declare, “They don’t want to work”… they are a bunch of “idlers, ne-er do wells and assorted scoundrels.”

Plans exposed

All the clap trap about advancing to “Communism,”—leaving aside the economic question which cannot be dealt with here—can be easily exposed. The same fundamental flaw exists in the Constitution. It is like the naked emperor and the imaginary clothes he is supposed to wear. The only real right in the Constitution, that of exercising it, will no more exist in reality than in the Stalinist one. Krushchev like Stalin is trying to square the circle.

The best test to the pretensions of the Constitution can be given by a little theoretical insight. The original Soviet Constitution took as its model the four principles worked out by Marx and Lenin, not for an alleged “transition to Communism,” but simply for the rule of the working class under extremely onerous, backward and generally difficult conditions.

  1. Soviets with free elections and right of recall.
  2. No official to be paid more than a skilled worker.
  3. No standing army but an armed people.
  4. No permanent bureaucracy. Each in turn to do the tasks of government.

Real democracy

If the Soviet Union were really advancing to Communism, this would mean the flowering of real democracy on a scale unheard of under capitalism. There would be full freedom for all tendencies to contend. All working class organisations would have the right to express and organise opposition points of view. It would even be possible today under conditions of rapid economic advance to allow a capitalist opposition to develop. So little would be the support they would gather in the country as a whole, no more a threat than feudalism and its Chestertonian glorifiers in capitalist England.

None of this will take place. And for a good and sufficient reason. The same ruling caste of officialdom controls Russia which glorified the bloodthirsty Stalin, and raised him to power as the personification of their interests, more educated and polished perhaps, but the same ruling caste. It is their interests that are paramount and that the Constitution is intended to safeguard. They cannot introduce real workers democracy, because as the Hungarian revolution showed that would mean the end of their rule. Bureaucracy like the ruling class in other countries “will do anything for the workers and peasants except get off their backs.” That is the real secret of the Constitution.