Evgeny Pashukanis

A Course on Soviet Economic Law


From Evgeny Pashukanis, Selected Writings on Marxism and Law (eds. p.Beirne & R. Sharlet), London & New York 1980, pp.304-45.
Translated by Peter B. Maggs.
Copyright © Peter B. Maggs. Published here by kind permission of the translator.
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The Subject and Method of Soviet Economic Law

1. Introductory remarks

The October Revolution initiated a period of the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society into communist. The state of this period is the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletarian dictatorship is called upon to perform a task of exclusive complexity and difficulty, making unprecedented changes in the innermost bases of human life. The period of the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a passing episode, not an accidental, and not a brief period in the development of modern society.

We say to the workers [wrote Marx] you must survive 15, 20, 50 years of civil war and international struggles not only to change existing relationships, but also to change yourselves and to become capable of political rule. [1]

[This is so because] it is not a matter of transforming private property but of eliminating it, not of concealing class contradictions, but of eliminating classes, not of improving existing society, but of founding a new one. [2]

The doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat was created and developed by the greatest theorists of scientific communism: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Marx and Engels showed the necessity and inevitability of the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois authority and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship as the political form of the transitional period from capitalism to communism. Lenin re-established and developed Marx’s doctrine on the dictatorship of the proletariat which had been vulgarized and distorted by the theorists of the Second International. He also discovered the state form of the proletarian dictatorship which corresponded to the age of imperialism and proletarian revolution (the Soviets), laid the bases of the doctrine of building socialism in one country, and justified the practice of state and economic construction of the proletarian dictatorship in the conditions of capitalist encirclement. This is a continuation of the proletarian class struggle in new forms. Stalin enriched the heritage of Marxism-Leninism with the analysis and development of the basic questions of the theory and practice of the building of socialism. He expanded the Marxist-Leninist doctrine on the dictatorship of the proletariat into the grandiose doctrine of the building of socialism in one country. This occurred under the conditions of the delay of the world revolution and of intensified internal class struggle against the capitalist classes and their ideological arms-bearers – bourgeois restorationist theorists, right and left opportunists, and counterrevolutionary Trotskyites.

Stalin summed up the Marxist-Leninist doctrine on the dictatorship of the proletariat in the following manner. The proletarian dictatorship includes “three aspects”, three “characteristic features”

  1. The utilization of the power of the proletariat for the suppression of the exploiters, for the defence of the country, for the consolidation of the ties with the proletarians of other lands, and for the development and the victory of the revolution in all countries.
  2. The utilization of the power of the proletariat in order to detach the toiling and exploited masses once and for all from the bourgeoisie, to consolidate the alliance of the proletariat with these masses, to enlist these masses for the work of socialist construction, and to ensure the state leadership of these masses by the proletariat.
  3. The utilization of the power of the proletariat for the organization of socialism, for the abolition of classes, and for the transition to a society without classes, to a society without a state. [3]

The proletariat organized as the ruling class solves the world-historic tasks noted here in the process of intensified class struggle. The forms of this struggle are multiple. The proletariat organizes the defence of the first state of the working people against intervention and external war; it suppresses the resistance of the capitalist elements within the country, reconstructs the small individual peasant agriculture and remakes the numerous masses of small owners into active builders of socialism. The proletariat uses, in the service of this new society, those cadres of old bourgeois specialists who were the former assistants of the bourgeoisie. Finally, in the process of intensified struggle with petit bourgeois influences, customs and survivals of the old society, it re-educates itself as well. The inculcation of socialist discipline is one of the most important new forms of the class struggle of the proletariat.

Soviet law, and in particular Soviet economic law, is one of the powerful weapons of the proletarian class struggle. Soviet law is a special form of proletarian policy. Soviet economic law itself is a special (specific) form of the policy of the proletarian state in the area of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce. This is its significance and role in the system of the proletarian dictatorship. All three aspects of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and all the forms of its class struggle, find their expression in Soviet economic law. Below we will consider the concept of Soviet economic law from three different sides:

  1. Soviet economic law, we affirm, is a form of the policy of the proletarian state in the area of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce.
  2. This definition is, however, insufficient. It still does not reveal the specific nature of Soviet economic law as a special form of proletarian policy. Its specific nature is determined by the concept of revolutionary legality. The application of the bases of revolutionary legality to the organizations of socialist production and Soviet commerce determines the concept of Soviet economic law in the broad sense.
  3. We limit our area still further, referring to the property relations of socialist society as the direct subject of Soviet economic law in the narrow sense of the term. The following exposition is devoted to Soviet economic law (in this last sense).

2. Soviet economic law as the class law of the proletariat (as a special form of the policy of the proletarian state in the area of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce)

(i) Economics and policy

All the objective possibilities for the building of socialism exist in the proletarian state. To the extent that the country of socialism has inexhaustible natural riches, to the extent that power is at hand-power which has the strength and desire to apply these resources for the use of the people (the dictatorship of the proletariat); to the extent that the system of the economy is planned, free from the accursed ills of capitalism; to the extent that the policy of the state is directed by the only consistently revolutionary Bolshevik part – to this extent, there are no strongholds which the Bolsheviks cannot conquer. It is all a matter of knowing how to manage production. Everything depends on the quality of economic management, on the correct organization of the economy, and on the mastery of technology. Politics cannot take priority over economics. Policy is expressed in the general guidance of the Party, in its decisions, and in such documents as the Six Conditions of Comrade Stalin. These “determine the regularities of our economic development and our victorious approach to socialism.” [4]

What explains this new, immeasurably expanding rule of the political superstructure? It is explained by the new combination of productive forces and productive relations under the conditions of the proletarian dictatorship. The only “truly revolutionary class” is the “proletariat”. On the other hand, “of all the means of production the most productive force is the revolutionary class itself”. [5] In a state in which power is in the hands of the working class, “the most productive force” is the bearer of state authority and the owner of the basic means of production. This is the source and explanation of the special role and exceptional significance of the political superstructure during the dictatorship of the proletariat.

These facts are very closely related to Soviet economic law. Soviet economic law has great significance as one of the factors of the revolutionary socialist transformation of social relationships. After the proletarian revolution the greatest task is organizational and, particularly, the task of implementing the “extraordinarily complex and fine network of new organizational relations encompassing the planned production and distribution of the products necessary for the existence of tens of millions of people”. [6] The organizational question takes on a most decisive significance in the conditions of the second Five Year Plan. “Now, when the general line of the Party has won”, states the decisions of the XVIIth Party Congress, “when the policy of the Party has been tested in practice, in the experience not only of the members of the Party but also of millions of workers and working peasants, the task of raising organizational work to the level of political leadership stands out.” The organizational question, remaining subordinate to the question of policy, nevertheless has exceptional significance in this light.

Soviet economic law is a system of measures necessary for the solution of the most important organizational problems of the building of a socialist economy. All its principles and institutions – such as plan discipline, one-man management, economic accountability, contract discipline etc. – appear, upon closer examination, to be important levers of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce. The plan is the law of the Soviet state. Fulfilment of the plan is the sacred obligation of every economic agency, of every manager, of every working person. The obligatory nature of acts of socialist planning (plan discipline) is supported by various sanctions, in particular by the threat of criminal repression. The plan as law, and the court as the guardian of the plan and law, are thus two of the most important levers in socialist organization. One-man management is the most important principle of the organization of socialist production. The socialist economy, based upon a high-level technology, requires the strictest unity of will, unquestioning subordination to the will of the Soviet manager. The consistent application of one-man management is confirmed by a series of Party decisions and legislative acts; the violation of one-man management is considered a violation of the laws of the Soviet Union, as a distortion of the Party line in questions of economic construction. Economic accountability is the basis of economic activity in all sectors of the national economy. Finally, the Soviet economic contract – the “best means of combining the economic plan and the principles of economic accountability”, one of the elements of unified Bolshevik policy – plays a huge role in the task of implementing a very fine network of organizational relations in the socialist economy. The consistent implementation of economic accountability, and the strengthening of contractual discipline, are the most important instruments for the expansion of Soviet commerce – of “commerce without profiteers, small and large”. [7]

A quick look at the history of Soviet economic construction also reveals the role of Soviet economic law as a form of the policy of the proletarian state.

In the first years of the building of socialism, one of the first tasks of the victorious proletariat consisted in the expropriation of the basic economic commanding heights from the bourgeoisie. The nationalization of industry, transport, banks and land constitutes the basic content of Soviet economic legislation in the first years of Soviet power. The consistent execution of the legislation on nationalization (i.e. the actual possession by the proletariat of the factories, plants, transportation and credit institutions expropriated from the bourgeoisie) is one of the most remarkable events in the history of socialist construction. Simultaneously, this is one of the most interesting events of the history of Soviet economic law.

In 1921-1922, the Party manned the helm of economic policy. The union of the working class and the peasantry was transferred to the rails of commerce. In connection with this the market was re-established, and capitalist elements were permitted (with essential limitations). This policy found its expression in a series of major legislative acts. A basic document, and characteristic for the years of NEP, is the Civil Code of the RSFSR (1922). The basic ideas of the economic policy of the first years of NEP are imprinted in it. Here is the commanding position of socialist property (Arts. 21 and 22 of the Civil Code, the limited legalization of private ownership and civil commerce (Arts.1, 4, 5, 54, 55, 58 of the Civil Code etc.), the elements of state capitalism (Arts.55, 153, 154, 162 of the Civil Code) and the priority rights of the working people and the state (Art.5 of the Introductory Act, Art. 30 of the Civil Code).

Finally, both the economic legislation now in force, and the practice of its realization, have played a most important role in the conduct of the policy of expanded socialist offensive, of uprooting capitalism and of building a classless society. “The plan, and contracts, and economic accountability – all these are elements of a unified Bolshevik economic policy”, stated Comrade Molotov at the January Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Auditing Commission (1933).

The plan, contract and economic accountability on the one hand and social (socialist) property as their basis on the others, are simultaneously the most important categories of Soviet economic law. The concrete application of these principles, and their disclosure in the regulation of different branches of Soviet economy, constitutes the content of the system of economic law of the USSR.

The role of Soviet economic law as a form of the policy of the proletarian state is revealed exceptionally clearly in judicial and arbitration practice. In 1925, for instance, the Supreme Court of the RSFSR established the rule of the so-called “presumption of state ownership”, i.e. that in case of a dispute between state agencies and private persons on the right of ownership to property, such property is always presumed to belong to the state and the burden of proving the opposite always rests upon the private party. This rule was widely used in the conduct of the policy of limiting and eliminating capitalist elements. Another example is provided by the State Arbitration of the USSR (1932) which established the principle of strictly limited interpretation of instances of so-called “impossibility of performance”, i.e. of absolving contractual liability. State Arbitration recognized that an accident in production, shortages of material supplies and a series of other circumstances, were not a basis for absolving responsibility. This rule had great significance for supporting contractual discipline between economic agencies, and therefore for the fulfilment of the national economic plan. It was subsequently sanctioned in legislation.

(ii) Soviet economic law – the class law of the proletariat

Thus, Soviet economic law is a special form of the policy of the proletarian state in the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce.

Policy is a relation between classes. As a form of the policy of the proletarian state, Soviet economic law expresses the will (or interests) of the ruling class organized in the state – the will of the proletariat. Bourgeois law is supported by all the power of the bourgeois state. Soviet economic law is protected by all the power of the proletarian dictatorship. Soviet economic law is class law, just as bourgeois law is also, just as is law in general. But it does not reflect the interests of an exploiting class and it does not strengthen and perpetuate exploitative relationships. On the contrary, being a weapon in the hands of the last of the exploited classes, whose emancipation means the “abolition of all inhuman living conditions of modern society” (i.e. of capitalist society) [8], Soviet economic law is used in the struggle for classless socialist society, where there will be no exploitation of man by man.

Socialism may be constructed only in the process of intensified class struggle. “The abolition of classes will not be achieved by way of eliminating the class struggle, but by its intensification.”) [9] The suppression of the resistance of the expropriated exploiters, the leadership of millions of the masses of the working people, positive creation in the building of the socialist economy – these are the different tasks of the proletarian dictatorship and at the same time the various forms of the class struggle of the proletariat. They determine the content of the institutions of Soviet economic law. Relationships connected with the execution of the laws on nationalization, on collectivization, on the liquidation of the kulaks as a class on the basis of total collectivization (the Law of February 1, 1930, On Measures for the Strengthening of the Socialist Reconstruction of the Agricultural Economy in the Regions of Total Collectivization and on the Struggle with Kulakism), on the expansion of Soviet commerce “without profiteers – small or large” – all this is not only the new Soviet economy, but simultaneously also the new Soviet economic legal relationships. Morever, during the whole course of its development, beginning with the October Revolution, the class nature of Soviet economic law has been unitary. This is the law of the proletariat building socialism.

The thesis of the class (and proletarian) nature of Soviet economic law has been repeatedly subjected to dispute. In 1925 Reisner came out with an affirmation of the mosaic, patchwork nature of Soviet law from the perspective of its class content. In Soviet law, in Reisner’s opinion, there are different “pieces”: both classical proletarian law (the Code of Laws on Labour, the Decree on Trusts), petit bourgeois law (the Land Code) and bourgeois law (the Civil Code). Each of the three “pieces” reflects the will and interests of one of the three social classes of the transitional period: the working class, the petit bourgeoisie, and the NEP-men capitalists.

In 1928, Professor Shreter characterized Soviet economic law as a “faceless instrumentality”. In Soviet economic law there is, purportedly, no “internal social orientation”. [10]

In 1930, Stal’gevich found in Soviet law certain “reactionary possibilities” which were the reflection of the interests of classes hostile to the proletariat. [11]

Finally, in 1931, Liberman presented a theory which ignored the class differences between Soviet and bourgeois law. According to Liberman, every civil law, and thus Soviet civil law, has as its basis the law of private property. Therefore, the abolition of kulak property and the process of the liquidation of the kulaks as a class, were connected (for Liberman) with the proposal of the abolition (liquidation) of Soviet civil law, a proposal that was clearly Trotskyite in its essence. It ignored all differences between kulak private ownership of the means of production and the private property of the medium-scale peasant. [12]

These “theories” slander Soviet law. Soviet law is a form of the policy of the proletarian dictatorship. This policy is unified in its class proletarian essence. The fact that the proletariat, at different stages of socialist construction, structures its relations differently with respect to different classes (with respect to the rural bourgeoisie: for instance, at one stage a policy of tolerance and limitation; at another, liquidation of the kulaks as a class), does not shake the unity of the class essence of working class policy. The methods and concrete ways change, but the final goals and tasks do not change. Accordingly, the nature of those measures, through which those goals are realized directly or indirectly, does not change. Likewise, Soviet economic law, as one of the forms of proletarian policy, remains unitary in its class proletarian nature at all stages of its development.

3. Socialist (revolutionary) legality and Soviet economic law

(i) The concept of socialist (revolutionary) legality

The proletarian dictatorship builds the socialist economy, organizes the process of expanded socialist reproduction by various ways, method and means. Not all of them are law. We speak of law only as the organized and coercive consolidation of a certain structure of social relationships which correspond to the interests of the ruling class.

Equally, Soviet economic law is not all and not every proletarian policy in the area of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce. It is not accidental that we define Soviet economic law as a special form of the policy of the proletarian state. The special (specific) nature of the policy of the proletarian state in the area of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce are most clearly revealed through the concept of socialist (revolutionary) legality.

Socialist (revolutionary) legality has enormous significance in the practice of the construction of socialism and of Soviet state administration. The violation of revolutionary legality a disruption of the proletarian state, and an aid to the class enemy. “The least illegality”, wrote Lenin, “and the least violation of the Soviet order, is a breach which the opponents of the working people will, immediately use.” [13] In 1922, in a letter to Stalin, Lenin characterized revolutionary legality in the following manner:

Legality cannot be one thing for Kaluga and another for Kazan, but must be uniform for all Russia and uniform for the entire federation of Soviet Republics. [14]

As the central task of the new agency of Soviet authority created in 1922, the procuracy, Lenin stated:

The procurator has the right and duty to do only one thing: to pursue the establishment of a truly uniform concept of legality in the entire Republic, despite any local differences and influences whatsoever ... [15]

Revolutionary legality signifies uniformity in the application of the policy of the Party and government, and undeviating observance of the decrees and prescriptions of the agencies of the proletarian dictatorship in the entire country. There must not be arbitrariness and wilfulness in the understanding and execution of the directives of the higher agencies of the proletarian dictatorship. Local initiative, independence of the lower state, social and economic agencies of the proletarian dictatorship, must develop within the bounds of general Soviet legislation. Revolutionary legality depends on exact and clear instructions from central agencies: directives, decrees, laws, i.e. the publication of general norms that are obligatory for all the local agencies and citizens. A special state apparatus is created to defend revolutionary legality. This guarantees undeviating observance of the bases of revolutionary legality: the procuracy, the court, arbitration. Revolutionary legality finally signifies the uniform application of the directives of the Party and the government by the masses of working people themselves (state discipline) and by their mass social organizations.

In The German Ideology Marx defines the concept of bourgeois legality: law is the will of the ruling class. The content of a law “is always given by the relations of this class, as private and criminal law especially clearly show”. In law, the will of the ruling class obtains “general expression in the form of the will of the state”. In the law the ruling classes apply their own will, but at the same time they do this in a form “independent of the personal will of any one separate individual among them”. [16]

Bourgeois legality is directed, naturally, at the defence of the basic conditions of the capitalist mode of production, at the protection and strengthening of bourgeois private property, and the guaranteeing of the rights of “man and citizen”, i.e. the right of the owner and the exploiter to suppress the revolutionary actions of the exploited classes.

In contradistinction to bourgeois legality, socialist (revolutionary) legality expresses the will of the last of the exploited classes, which has taken power – the will of the proletariat. The laws of the proletarian dictatorship are directed at the liquidation and extinction of exploitative relationships. In the hands of the proletariat they are a weapon for building a classless socialist society. They strengthen not private, but public (socialist) property, they protect and preserve the rights of the working people as citizens of the socialist state. “Regularity and order”, states Marx, “are the form of social consolidation of the given mode of production and therefore its relative emancipation from simple chance and simple arbitrariness.” Socialist “regularity and order”, i.e. socialist (revolutionary) legality, is a “form of social consolidation” of the socialist mode of production. In other words, revolutionary legality has a tremendous significance as a factor strengthening new socialist production relations, the new socialist order.

It would be incorrect to think that revolutionary legality is characteristic only of certain stages of the development of the proletarian dictatorship (in particular the first stage of NEP), or that revolutionary legality is peculiar only to the period of the toleration and limitation of capitalist elements. This is the doctrine of bourgeois jurist restorationists, the choir of the capitalist restoration. For them, revolutionary legality was a synonym for the policy of tolerating capitalist elements. Moreover, in a bourgeois-restorationist spirit, they distorted the purposes of this policy. Emphasizing the significance of revolutionary legality in 1921-1922, they interpreted it as the regression of Soviet Russia, as progress towards ordinary bourgeois social and legal order.

The meaning of this perspective was found in the proof of the purported defeat of the Bolsheviks. For the old-school jurists (the group of bourgeois professors from the journal Law and Life), revolutionary legality was “legally unthinkable”; the policy calculated to strengthen revolutionary legality was a policy of strengthening legality “in general”, in other words, bourgeois legality.

In fact, the concept of revolutionary legality was not limited to the first years of NEP. Revolutionary legality is neither a synonym for permitting capitalist elements nor, of course, for the restoration of capitalism. Revolutionary legality keeps its significance for all stages of development of the proletarian dictatorship and for all forms of the class struggle at each of these stages. Revolutionary legality was necessary for the proletariat in the years of Civil War, in the first years of NEP, in the years of elimination of the survivals of War Communism in the countryside (1925 – the XIVth Party Congress), and even now, in the period when the foundation of the socialist economy has been built, and the principles of socialism have been finally embedded in the economy of the country.

At the height of the civil war, on December 6, 1918, the VIth All-Russian Congress of Soviets adopted a special decree On the Observance of the Laws (Collection of Legislation, 1918, no.90, item 908). The Congress asked “all citizens of the republic, all agencies and all officials of Soviet power, strictly to observe the RSFSR laws, decrees, statutes and orders issued and published by central authority”. Strict legality was necessary for the conduct of Civil War. The proletariat used revolutionary legality as one of the weapons in the most acute form of class struggle.

In December 1921, formulating the bases of the NEP, the IXth Congress of Soviets, in the resolution on the Cheka, emphasized the necessity of strengthening the bases of revolutionary legality. In the resolution on economic work, the Congress of Soviets demanded more energy from the People’s Commissariat of Justice in two respects:

In the first place, the people’s courts of the Republic must strictly monitor the activity of private commerce and entrepreneurs, not allowing the least restraint of their activity, but at the same time strictly punishing the least attempts to depart from the undeviating observance of the laws of the Republic. They must raise the broad masses of workers and peasants to independence, and ensure their swift and effective participation in the work of supervising the observance of legality; in the second place, people’s courts must pay more attention to the judicial prosecution of bureaucratism, red tape and economic disorganization (Collection of Legislation, 1922, no.4, item 30, para.7, item 42).

The Congress emphasized the necessity of the prompt enactment of major legislative work on the preparation of a series of compilations of laws and codes. This work was conducted during 1922 (the Criminal, Civil, Land and Labour Codes).

In 1925, the XIVth Party Congress recognized “that the interests of strengthening the proletarian state, and the further growth of confidence in it on the part of the broad masses of the peasantry-in connection with the Party policy currently being conductedrequire the maximum strengthening of revolutionary legality, particularly in the lower agencies of authority.” In 1927-1930, the Party and the working class applied Soviet laws for the struggle against the kulaks, who had sabotaged the state planned measures on agricultural procurement, on taxes and, on the socialist reconstruction of agriculture.

Finally, at the new stage, when the question of “who-whom” was already decided in full favour of socialism in both the town and the countryside, when on the base of the successful fulfilment of the First Five Year Plan, an advanced technical base had been created for the socialist reconstruction of the whole national economy, the Party again clarified the question of revolutionary legality.

In the Decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars (June 25, 1932), it was emphasized that revolutionary legality was “one of the most important means of strengthening the proletarian dictatorship, of protecting the interests of the workers and of the working peasants, and of combating the class enemies of the working people (the kulaks, middlemen, blackmarketeers, bourgeois wreckers and their counter-revolutionary political agents).” Therefore the Party proposed to all Party organizations; to provide the court and the procuracy with all possible aid and support in the work of strengthening revolutionary legality and consistently executing the Party directive that Communists be strictly accountable for the slightest violation of the laws.

On July 20, 1933, the all-union procuracy was formed. This was for the purpose of strengthening socialist legality and the proper protection of public property in the USSR from encroachments on the Party by anti-social elements.

At the XVIIth Party Congress, Comrade Stalin stigmatized Soviet “personages” or violators of Soviet laws.

These people, on account of their past services, have become “personages”. They consider that Party and Soviet laws are not written for them, but for fools. These are the same people who do not consider it their duty to carry out the decisions of the Party and the government. They destroy the bases of Party and state discipline. What do they hope to achieve in violating Party and state laws? They hope that Soviet power will decide not to touch them because of their former services. These conceited personages think that they are irreplaceable and that they can violate the decisions of leading agencies without punishment. What should be done with such people? They should be removed from leading posts without hesitation and without consideration of their past services. They should be replaced and demoted and this should be published in the press. This is necessary in order to destroy their arrogance and to put them in their place. This is necessary to strengthen Party and Soviet discipline in all our work. [17]

The creation of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs has tremendous significance for the strengthening of the bases of revolutionary legality in all areas of Soviet construction. The main tasks of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs consists of protecting revolutionary order, state security and public (socialist) property.

Of course the content of revolutionary legality has now (at the new stage) essentially changed. But it still acts as a powerful working class weapon for uprooting capitalism and building a socialist society. The new content of revolutionary legality at the present stage was exhaustively characterized in the report by Comrade Stalin at the January Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Auditing Committee in 1933:

Revolutionary legality of the first period of NEP ... was directed mainly against the extremes of War Communism and “illegal” confiscations and requisitions. It guaranteed the private homeowner, farmer and capitalist the preservation of their property on the condition of their strict observance of Soviet laws. The situation is entirely different with respect to revolutionary legality in our time. Revolutionary legality of our time directs its cutting edge not against the extremes of War Communism, which have long since ceased to exist, but against thieves and wreckers in the public economy, against hooligans and plunderers of public property. The basic concern of revolutionary legality in our time consists only in the protection of public property. [18]

The Party has repeatedly needed to defend the correct concept of revolutionary legality from attacks, onslaughts and distortions by a variety of anti-Party tendencies and movements. Attempts have been made to contrast revolutionary (or economic) expediency. In this instance revolutionary legality was reduced to the “protection of the personal and property rights of citizens of the USSR” and was used in the struggle against the Party line, directed originally at the limitation and then at the liquidation of capitalist elements. Purportedly relying upon revolutionary legality, on the necessity of the strict observance of Soviet laws and decrees, the right opportunists opposed the measures of the Soviet state for mass confiscation of property from the kulaks in connection with all-out collectivization. The erroneousness of this point of view is obvious. The coercion (unlimited by law) against exploiters is written in the Soviet Constitution. On the other hand, even the application of the sharpest measures of struggle against the exploiting and parasitical elements does not eliminate the necessity of struggle with those who apply the measures incorrectly, distorting the policy of the Party and Soviet authority or allow abuses of it. It was so clear to Lenin that Soviet legality could be nothing other than revolutionary that in the above cited letter, to Comrade Stalin, he spoke simply of legality. [19]

The right opportunist concept of revolutionary legality-a concept which merges with the liberal bourgeois concept-is a distortion of the question of revolutionary legality. Other distortions are ignorant, naive and careless attitudes towards revolutionary legality. In practice these degenerate into naked bureaucratism, arbitrariness, wilfulness, ignoring the rights of the working people as citizens of the Soviet Union. The Party also conducts an implacable struggle with the “left” deviation at the basis of which lies the same contrast between law and revolution, and between legality and expediency.

(ii) Soviet economic law as the realization of the principles of revolutionary legality in the area of the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce

A constituent part (one of the most important parts) of all revolutionary legislation of the first proletarian state in the world is economic legislation. Soviet economic legislation is brought to life under the guidance of the Party by the state (Soviet) apparatus, Soviet economic organizations, by the whole mass of working people and by individual citizens of the Soviet Union. Special agencies of state authority protect revolutionary legality in this area: the procuracy, court, agencies of state and departmental arbitration.

From this viewpoint, all Soviet economic law can and must be understood as the application of the principles of revolutionary legality to the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce. One of the most important institutions of Soviet economic law – contractual discipline – is nothing other than the realization of the principles of revolutionary legality in the mutual relations of economic agencies and other participants in economic commerce in the USSR. Revolutionary legality, as the “iron discipline of the Party and the state”, is the organizational basis for the administration of socialist enterprises, i.e. the organizational basis of socialist production. Most significant, particularly at the present stage, are questions of the protection of the property rights of toiling people, workers, collective farmers, individual peasant farmers and employees.

The perspective that the question of revolutionary legality found in the report of Comrade Stalin at the January Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Auditing Committee relates only to the area of criminal legislation, is unconditionally wrong. The protection of public (socialist) property is a basic concern of revolutionary legality at the present stage. But the protection and strengthening of public property is realized not only by applying criminal repression against direct plunderers of property, thieves and rogues, but also by a system of measures strengthening socialist production and Soviet commerce. Such measures are: strengthening financial budgeting, credit, plan and contract discipline, the introduction of a system of savings, economic accountability, and “control by the rouble” of the practical work of Soviet economic organizations etc. These questions are within the competent sphere of Soviet economic law and are, therefore, together with other parts of revolutionary legality, a powerful weapon of the proletarian dictatorship for building a classless socialist society.

4. Soviet economic law as a system of property relations of the transitional period from capitalism to communism

(i) The concept of property relations

The definition of Soviet economic law developed above embraces a very broad area of social relationships. This is the concept of Soviet economic law in the broad sense. We delineate it in the narrower concept of Soviet economic law in the actual (or narrow) sense of the term. Its subject is the property relations of socialist society.

Property relations occur when people enter into the process of producing the material conditions of their existence, i.e. production relations. But these are not simply production relations, but are production relations taken from the position of their “legal expression”, i.e. as “relations of property”. In other words, they are “relationships between individuals in connection with the materials, instruments and products of labour”. [20] They are formalized in a definite manner, confirmed and supported by the organized power of the ruling class, and are the relations for the distribution of labour and its products among the members of society. “Whatever the social forms of production”, states Marx, “workers and means of production always remain its factors. But, being in a condition of isolation from each other, both of these factors are only potential factors. In order to produce at all, they must be united. The special character and method by which this union is realized identify the distinct economic stage of a social structure.” [21]

The special character and method which is given to the matrix of labour power and the means of production under capitalism, finds its expression in the institution of the private ownership of the means of production. The special character and method of combining labour power and the means of production under the conditions of a socialist economy, is expressed by the institution of public (socialist) property. Bourgeois property, and the capitalist class’s monopoly of the means of production, is a source of capitalist domination over the proletariat and of capitalist exploitation (a special form of the appropriation of another’s labour). Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the distance between the direct producer, the means of production and the product of labour, is eliminated. The working class, “the most productive force”, itself as the “organizer, as the ruling class” (i.e. as the state), becomes the owner of the instruments and the means of production and the “master of its product”. [22]

To the extent that economic law relations are property relations and property relations are relations of ownership-the law of property is the central concept of every system of economic law: private ownership of the means of production is the central concept of bourgeois civil law, public (socialist) property is the central concept of Soviet economic law. All bourgeois “civil commerce” is a particular type of the circulation of private property. Equally, the system of Soviet economic law may be correctly understood only as public (socialist) property set in motion in the struggle with private property. Therefore, the law of August 7, 1932, On the Protection and Strengthening of Public (Socialist) Property (Collection of Laws, 1932, no.62, item 360), the significance of which is correctly compared with the Constitution of the USSR, defines public property as the basis of the entire Soviet system: “The Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR decree that public property (state, collective farm, co-operative) is the basis of the Soviet system, and that it is sacred and untouchable.”

As the legal expression of production relations, property relations may and must be understood as an organizational form of social production and “the social exchange of objects”. This is the way Marx understands them. Foe him, feudal property relations are “the feudal organization of agriculture and industry”, bourgeois property relations are the “modern [i.e. capitalist – eds.] organization of production”. [23] Marx sees this organizational content in individual institutions of bourgeois civil (i.e. property) law. Thus, the different forms of property are different stages in the division of social labour. in particular, private property is “a necessary form of intercourse [stress ours – E.B.P.] at a given stage in the development of the forces of production”. [24] It is the same with contract, in particular, with the contract of purchase and sale, personal hiring etc. The contract of purchase and sale, for instance, serves the social division of labour between the various branches of labour, and hired labour is “the essential bourgeois organization of labour”.

P.I. Stuchka, following Marx, correctly characterizes the bourgeois civil code as a sort of charter of bourgeois civil society, i.e. as an act determining the internal order of society, its organization, the relations of its constituents-accordingly, as an organizational act. [25] It is true that in the conditions of bourgeois society the civil code “organizes” disorganization: the anarchy of production and capitalist competition. But in this respect this is bourgeois society itself; it does not have the power to cease being itself, i.e. to eliminate private property, to end capitalist competition. Therefore, one must not over-rate the organizational possibilities of bourgeois civil law. Furthermore, the bourgeoisie tries to use the political superstructure – state and law – for the purposes of ordering the course of social production. In the period of imperialism in general, and in particular in the recent years of the intensive process of the fascistization of the bourgeois state, these tendencies have been strengthened. But they do not and cannot produce the desired result, for they all leave unmoved the primary basis of capitalist society: capitalist private property.

Property relations in the USSR, as the legal expression of the production relations of socialist society, are thereby also the “formal organization” of socialist production and of the socialist “public exchange of objects”, i.e. of Soviet commerce. But posing the question of ownership in the USSR, and of the decisive role of public (socialist) property, places the whole problem of socialist property relations on a new level. To the extent that in the USSR the basic economic commanding heights belong to one owner – to the proletariat, organized as the ruling class and also the most productive social force-to this extent possibilities are created for the organization of the management of the processes of social production and exchange, for the conscious and planned construction of a socialist economy; processes that are entirely unattainable for capitalism. Hence, the organization of production and exchange in the USSR is the problem of control of the process of social production and organization of economic relations between the individual links of the socialist economy. This compels us to understand Soviet economic law, whose subject is the system of property relations of socialist society, as a special form of the policy of the proletarian state in the area of the organization of the administration of the economy and the organization of economic linkages.

(ii) Property relations in socialist society

But the question of socialist property relations under conditions of socialism is more complex than it seems at first glance. In capitalism everything is based upon private property. Private property divides. Private property presumes a multitude of owners with distinct interests, property rights and liabilities. Therefore, the capitalist system of relations of production and exchange is simultaneously an endless chain of relationships between property owners, between capitalists and workers, industrial and commercial capitalists, capitalists and landowners etc.

Conversely, public (socialist) property is unitary. It does not divide, but joins. Moreover, in the course of the Second Five Year Plan, public (socialist) property will become the sole form of ownership of the means of production. The socialist mode of production is being transformed into the sole mode of production in the USSR. It may be asked how are property relations, i.e. relations between owners, possible in these conditions (since there is no longer a multitude of owners)?

The classics of Marxism give the answer to this question.

“Law”, says Marx, “can never be higher than the economic structure of society and the cultural development conditioned by it.” [26] The new socialist society proceeds from the womb of capitalism; we can see that during the course of a long period, “in all its relationships – economic, moral and intellectual – it will still bear the imprint of the old society from whose womb it came” [27]; hence the preservation in the new society (at the first phase of its development-under socialism) of the tracer of “bourgeois law” as the regulator of the distribution of products and the distribution of social labour. Lenin, developing Marx’s thoughts, writes:

... At the first phase of communist society (which is usually called socialism), bourgeois law is not abolished in full, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic transformation already achieved, i.e. only with respect to the means of production. Bourgeois law recognizes them as the private property of individual persons. Socialism makes them public property. To this extent – and only to this extent – bourgeois law disappears, but it remains nevertheless in its other part, remains as a regulator (definer) of the distribution of products and the distribution of social labour. He who does not work, neither shall he eat – this socialist principle is already realized; for an equal quantity of labour, an equal quantity of products – this socialist principle is also already realized. However this is still not communism and this still does not eliminate bourgeois law that gives an equal quantity of products to unequal people for an unequal (unequal in fact) quantity of labour. [28]

Thus, in the first phase of communist society, under socialism, there is not and cannot be exploitation. Private property in the means of production has been eliminated. The socialist principle of remuneration according to labour is fully in effect, but “bourgeois” (in quotes) law is preserved. The preservation of “bourgeois” law consists here in the fact that an even scale (even measure) is applied to (factually) unequal persons, to unequal relations. Inequality, therefore, is preserved. Therefore, the norms which legalize this inequality are protected by the state, which maintains them by coercion. Only “in the higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour disappears; when the opposition between mental and physical labour disappears; when labour ceases to be merely a means for life and becomes life’s prime want; when the all-round development of the individual, the forces of production and all the sources of social wealth flow in full stream – only then may the narrow horizon of bourgeois law be fully overcome and may society inscribe on its banner: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!” [29] Only at this stage will law and the state finally wither away.

The preservation under socialism of “bourgeois law”, i.e. of material inequality, means that individual members of society – working people – will enter into relations with one another as bearers of property rights and duties, as “persons” – subjects of law. They are owners, but the range of objects capable of being the object of the right of property for individual persons under socialism is limited to objects of consumption. Means of production belong to all society.

However, according to Lenin, “bourgeois law” is the regulator not only of the social distribution of products, but – within certain limits – also of the “distribution of labour”. The distribution of labour between different branches of the economy is also the problem of organization of socialist production, but in the conditions of socialist society, the organization of the administration of socialist production. What does the preservation, in this area, “of the narrow horizon of bourgeois law”, (i.e. the application of an equal scale to the unequal) consist? It consists of the use of the method of economic accountability by the proletarian state for the purpose of the planned management of the socialist economy. Socialist enterprises, transferred to economic accountability, enter into relations with one another as property-wise distinct economic units, as bearers of independent property rights and duties. An organization of economic accountability is not a private owner. The part of state property assigned to an organization of economic accountability is “allotted” to it, but does not cease to be part of the single fund of state property. But at the same time, an organization with economic accountability has “its own” basic property, its own working assets, and independently enters (within limits and for the fulfilment of planned tasks) into property relations with other organizations having economic accountability. Therefore, recalling the words of Lenin at the VIth Congress of Soviets on the remnants of “bourgeois law” under socialism, Comrade Molotov illustrated this with the examples of the organization of the distribution of labour and incomes in collective farms, the policy of wages, co-operative trade and economic accountability in state industry. [30]

Such are the reasons why in socialist society not only relations between individual workers, in the distribution of consumer items, take on the nature of property relations, but also the relations between the links of the socialist economy for the organization of socialist production and Soviet commerce.

These reasons are not, however, exhaustive. They do not explain the whole multitude of property relations either beyond the limits of the second Five Year Plan under the conditions of the classless socialist society, or even less so at the present stage of development of the USSR.

The proletariat of the USSR is building socialism within a capitalist encirclement. The presence of intensive economic ties between the USSR and the capitalist world invokes a number of institutions of Soviet economic law. Within the limits of the homogeneous and dominant public (socialist) property in the USSR, the difference between state socialist and collective farm co-operative property retains all its significance. The Party firmly holds to its course on the organizational-economic strengthening of collective farms in the form of the artel, i.e. it also considers it necessary to preserve the personal supplementary farming of the collective farmers along with the public collective farming. For all of the second Five Year Plan, and with the predominant role of socialism in the economy of the USSR, a petty commodity structure will also be maintained (individual peasant farming, craftsmen who are not members of co-operatives). All these are facts which must be taken fully into account to understand the rich content of the system of Soviet economic law.





1. K. Marx and F. Engels, Sobranie sochinenii (1922), Moscow, vol.8, p.xxx.

2. ibid., p.xxiv.

3. J. Stalin, Problems of Leninism (1947), State Publishing House, Moscow, 11th edition, pp.135-136.

4. Towards the Struggle for the National Economic Plan, Pravda, editorial, July 1, 1933, no.179.

5. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1847-1848), MESW, vol.1, p.117.

6. V.I. Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government (1918), LCW, vol.27, p.241.

7. J. Stalin (1947), op. cit., p.493.

8. K. Marx and F. Engels, Sobranie sochinenii, vol.3, p.56.

9. J. Stalin (1947), op. cit., p.424.

10. V. Shreter, Soviet Economic Law (1928), Moscow-Leningrad, p.34.

11. A.K. Stangevich, Theses (1930), Moscow, p.36.

12. S. Liberman, The Last Stage of NEP and Economic Law, Problems of Marxism, 1931, no.5/6.

13. V.I. Lenin, Sochinenii, vol.24, p.434.

14. V.I. Lenin, ‘Dual’ Subordination and Legality (1922), LCW, vol.33, p.364,

15. ibid., p.364.

16. K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology (1845-1846), Progress Publishers, Moscow (1976), p.99.

17. J. Stalin (1947), op. cit., p.512 [Report to the XVIIth Party Congress on the work of the Central Committee].

18. ibid., p.422.

19. E.B. Pashukanis, Soviet Law and Revolutionary Legality, Journal of the I.K.P. (Institute of Red Professors) (1934), no.2.

20. K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology (1845-1846), op. cit., p.38.

21. K. Marx and F. Engels, Capital (1867), op. cit., vol.2, p.34.

22. F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), MESW, vol.3, op. cit.

23. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1847-1848), MESW, vol.1, p.113.

24. K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology (1845-1846), op. cit., p.375.

25. P.I. Stuchka, A Course on Soviet Civil Law (1928), Moscow, 2nd edition, vol.1, p.44.

26. K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), MESW, vol.3, p.19.

27. ibid., p.17.

28. V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917), LCW, vol.25, p.467.

29. K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), op. cit., p.19.

30. V. Molotov, Stenographic Report, Sixth Congress of Soviets of the USSR, Publishing House of the Central Executive Committee (1931), Bulletin no.2, pp.26-27.

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Last updated on 13.5.2004