Peter Petroff April 1935

The Soviet Constitution

Source: Labour, April 1935, p.189;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Perhaps no other constitution proves the truth of Lassalle’s statement, that a constitution is but the expression of the balance of social forces in a country, so vividly as does that of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet System grew up in the Kerenski period as a State within the State, as an organ of power of the revolutionary classes – the workers, the peasants and the soldiers. At the time of the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks, together with their allies, the Left Social Revolutionaries, had a large majority in the Soviets. However, when the Constituent Assembly met they found themselves there in a minority. Two organs of power clashed, and the weaker one had to disappear.

The Government which had emerged from the October Revolution, like its “democratic” predecessor, termed itself the “Provisional Government.” It was only at the Third Soviet Congress a few days after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly that it declared itself the constitutional Government of the country.

Thus the “Soviet System” came into being in the process of struggle between the various classes and. Parties, The result of these struggles was embodied in a written constitution only at the Fifth Soviet Congress on July 10, 1918.

Yet the dualism which had sprung up in the Kerenski period was by no means abolished. The Soviet Government had inherited from the Kerenski Government the various ministries, which were now described as “People’s Commissariats.” The question was whether the Soviet System, with its various departments would develop, or whether the commissariats as ministries without a parliament would play the predominant part. Further developments led to the strengthening of the bureaucratic commissariats, while the power of the Soviets became more and more nominal.

The expulsion of the Right Social Revolutionary and Menshevik deputies from the Central Executive Committee in the summer of 1918, and the abortive armed rising of the Left Social Revolutionaries, left the entire power in the hands of the Communist Party.

The suppression of all the opposition Press and of the opposition Parties followed. Russia became a One Party State. The dictatorship of the proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry was transformed into the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Soon this process went further: the dictatorship of the Party narrowed down into the dictatorship of the Executive Committee of the Party, then of its Political Bureau. Finally, it emerged as the dictatorship of the General Secretary, Stalin.

During the post-Revolutionary period the election of the Soviets took place without any register of the electorate, the voting by show of hands. In the days of the Revolution open voting was justified by the argument that since there were no Capitalists there could he no fear of victimisation. Consequently, there was no need for a secret ballot.

However, the development of State Capitalism brought in its train a new ruling class – the all-powerful bureaucracy. Therefore the danger of victimisation became very real, and the voting by show of hands made the elections a farce.

As there is only one set of candidates, the elector has no selection. He can either accept or (if he dares!) reject the candidates. As under State Capitalism, the citizen is completely at the mercy of the State, he seldom dares to reject the list of candidates proposed by the ruling Party.

The elector elects his representatives directly only to the local Soviets. The deputies to the district, State or Union Administration, are not elected by him directly, but indirectly in two three and four degrees.

The urban population has a higher representation than the rural population – one delegate to the Soviet Congress for every 25,000 as opposed to one for every 125,000.

As is known, in the Soviet Union the right to vote is based not on the principle of citizenship, but on labour. According to Molotov, in 1934, approximately 2,000,000 citizens were deprived of the right to vote.

Unfortunately, the Soviet Constitution all these years has shown another little defect – it remained on paper. The Soviet Congresses, for instance, were to be held every six months. The intervals gradually increased. Between the last two Congresses, there was an interval of four years!

On February 6, 1935, the Soviet Congress of the U.S.S.R. decided in favour of the reform of the Constitution. A commission was elected with the object of amending it.

The franchise system is to be equal, direct and secret. Unfortunately, there is no question of the introduction of a register of voters, nor of simultaneous voting all over the country.

In introducing these proposals, Molotov told his hearers that “the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century were the periods of development of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism. Universal, direct and equal suffrage with the secret ballot was the chief political slogan of bourgeois parties in the best years of their development.” (Poor Chartists, Trade Unions and Social Democrats! They must have been “bourgeois.”)

He further stated that in the democratic countries the working class press and the whole democratic press are kept under the heel of the police being subjected to countless police repressions.”

He proclaims: “The time has arrived when the Soviet government in order to strengthen the Soviet System can introduce into the Soviet System all that is best in universal, direct, equal suffrage and the secret ballot.”

Undoubtedly, if carried through, direct elections would be a great improvement and a secret ballot would be an enormous progress. However, without a register of electors this loses a great deal of its practical value as votes may not be counted.

In a One Party State, where the elector cannot select between various candidatures and lists of candidates, he can only vote “yes” or “no,” and voting is futile. All that remains to him is to show his dissatisfaction by declining to endorse the official candidates. But who will count the votes? Under all existing dictatorships voting is merely a farce and the constitution a scrap of paper.

In order to have real elections, freedom of the press, of speech and organisation to act as a guarantee of personal liberty is required.

Anyhow, what is the use of even freely electing a Parliament or a Central Committee if it meets only once in a blue moon just for decoration and is not endowed with any real power?

Yet this promise of a modest change in the paper constitution is proclaimed in the Soviet Union and its agencies abroad as one of the greatest events in human history.

A great noise is being made over the promise to introduce into the Soviet Constitution some democratic principles practised for decades under “Capitalist democracy.” It remains to be seen how that promise will materialise in the peculiar political atmosphere prevailing in the Soviet Union.