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Fourth International, April 1946


Review of the Month

The 1945 Inheritance Laws

And the Recent Political Developments Inside the Soviet Union


From Fourth International, April 1946, Vol.7 No.4, pp.99-101.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


For the first time in many years first-hand material concerning internal life of the USSR is becoming available in this country. Two highly significant developments have taken place: one in the field of economy, the other in the domain of politics. The latter is quite recent, the former is one year old.

Last year, on March 14, 1945 the Supreme Council promulgated an important decree which introduced sweeping revisions into those sections of the Soviet Civil Code that govern the inheritance of private property by law and by will. So far as we know, the full text of this decree was made publicly available in this country for the first time in the recent February issue of the American Review on the Soviet Union. A study of this decree discloses a further deep incursion under the Kremlin regime into the economic foundations of the USSR.

From the Marxist standpoint, inheritance is a juridical expression of “the economic organization of society based on the private ownership of the means of production” (Marx). A little reflection will show that it is impossible to strike at the roots of capitalism without at the same time overturning the chief buttresses of the legal superstructure whereby private property is perpetuated. That is why one of the first actions of the young workers’ republic under Lenin and Trotsky was to abolish inheritance. “Inheritance by law as well as by will is hereby annulled,” states a decree of May 1, 1918.

But this original decree, like others in the same period, was intended to set a goal rather than to be put immediately into effect. It is possible to completely abolish inheritance, only when a country’s economic life has been definitely switched to the track of socialist production. At the outset it is possible only to place rigid restrictions on inheritance. This is precisely what the Bolsheviks did in Russia. A limit was fixed on the amount of property that could be bequeathed and the number of individuals who could inherit. Capitalist law, naturally, sets no such limits.


The initial Soviet regulations of inheritance were stop-gap measures. In the absence of adequate social security provisions, the Soviets permitted, in order to take care of incapacitated individuals and minors, inheritances of property up to 10,000 gold rubles in value, with the heirs being limited to the direct descendants of the deceased – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, the surviving spouse, and the incapacitated members of the household. All property over and above the set sum reverted to the state, the sole legal owner of all property.

With the inception of the New Economic Policy (NEP) – that is with the partial retreat toward capitalist forms made necessary after the termination of the Civil War – these stopgap measures became the legal norm (decrees of May 22, 1922). In certain cases the 10,000 gold ruble restriction was waived, and a heavy progressive inheritance tax – up to 50 percent – was levied on permitted inheritances over and above the fixed sum.

Under the regime of the bureaucracy we observe a step by step relaxation of restrictions on the amount that could be legally bequeathed, and on March 1, 1926 the 10,000 gold ruble limit was erased. In addition, exempted from the heavy inheritance tax were such items as: household articles (except luxuries), insurance policies, author’s and patent rights, bank savings, etc. The next step toward removing all restrictions on the amount of inheritance came nine years later, when, the decree of April 1, 1935, sanctioned the transfer of bank accounts, state-loan bonds and negotiable paper to individuals other than the legal heirs.

But the restriction on the number of legal heirs remained in force throughout all these years, and through the first years of the war. Moreover, if a property owner died intestate, his estate could be by law divided exclusively and equally among his direct relatives (surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and incapacitated members of the household). In the absence of these, the property reverted to the state. The original provisions in this connection, thus remained the law of the land.

Such is no longer the case, because the March 1945 decree extends the number of heirs by law to include “able-bodied parents, and in their non-existence the brothers and sisters of the decedent.”


In addition, an order of precedence is set by law, as is the case in capitalist countries. No such precedence, however, operates in inheritance by will. Article II of the new decree flatly states that “every citizen can bequeath his entire property, or part thereof to one or several persons mentioned in Article I of this decree,” and then it goes on to add that in the absence of these “the property may be bequeathed to any person.” In other words, not only distant relatives but completely unrelated individuals may legally inherit “by will.” This is virtually identical with the capitalist guarantees for the perpetration of private property.

It is noteworthy that the decree also permits property owners to bequeath either part or the whole of their estates to “government organizations and to social institutions,” the sole restriction being that “minor children and other incapacitated heirs” cannot be deprived of their legal share. Among the “social institutions” recognized by the Kremlin are the “millionaire” collective farms, co-operatives, restricted officers’ clubs, and other formations which represent budding bourgeois property forms within the existing economic structure of the Soviet Union. It ought to be added that the Greek Orthodox Church, too, is now a legal heir.

One cannot estimate at a distance the full extent to which capitalist tendencies have been strengthened in Soviet economy during the war years. It is clear, however, that the March 1945 decree greatly reinforces these tendencies. Not only is the perpetuation of private property now sanctioned, but the road to its concentration is widened.


This must be especially true in agriculture where a hothouse growth of millionaire collective farmers occurred during the war. These are rural bourgeois who dispose of huge sums of currency, state-bonds, etc. and who are likewise permitted by law to possess dwellings, livestock, private plots of land, agricultural implements, etc. Those among them with high decorations, and there are many, are exempt from war taxes and other levies. Under the law these accumulations can now be perpetuated virtually intact. Furthermore, the same inheritance law provides new loopholes for rapid accumulation: individuals or groups of individuals are now enabled, by the relatively simple device of arranging “legacies,” to gain possession of property (or dispose of it), which they might otherwise be prevented from doing by the still extant restrictions on outright purchases and sales.

The urban bureaucracy is now in a position not only to perpetuate its incomes, savings, town homes, summer villas, automobiles, household furniture, utensils, etc., but also to acquire as “heirs” property in the collective farms. This process, of course, works both ways, and may work to knit more closely the capitalist elements in the village with those in industry.

When this is added to the pressure of the full-blown capitalist elements in the Soviet “buffer-zone” (Eastern Europe and the Balkans), and of world imperialism, it becomes clear that enormous centrifugal tendencies are being generated inside the USSR.

How strong is the capitalist wing in the country and in the administrative and military apparatus? There are as yet only indirect indications, for the struggle remains muted.


For example, on the same day the inheritance decree was issued, i.e., March 15, 1945, Pravda called editorially for a decisive attack on the kulak (rich farmer) elements. To be sure, Stalin’s editors cautiously limited the kulak danger to the liberated Latvian area where the Nazis and anti-Soviet Latvians allegedly “poisoned the consciousness of the workers with false propaganda.” After all, the Kremlin could not very well admit publicly the resurgence of this “danger” on a national scale and in the midst of war! – after the years of boasting that the kulak had been completely liquidated. (This “liquidation” was proclaimed in the early ’Thirties, along with the “irrevocable victory of socialism in one country.”)

At the time, one year ago, Pravda called only for an intensified campaign of “political education” in the areas liberated from the Germans. Since then this “educational” campaign has been extended far and wide. The whole press has been switched over from the wartime ultra-nationalist propaganda to a postwar emphasis on the Stalinist brand of “Marxism-Leninism.” Supplementing the press in this new tactical “left” re-orientation is a huge staff of tens of thousands of agitators. They have been mobilized to “re-educate” the population and have been warned not to suspend their activities after the February elections to the Supreme Council.

It may appear paradoxical that the Kremlin should launch a full scale attack on the capitalist tendencies at the same time that Soviet laws reenforce these same tendencies. This paradox is inherent in the parasitic and contradictory character of Stalin’s rule. On the one hand, he batters down systematically all the conquests of the October Revolution, and strengthens the capitalist tendencies and paves the way for the restoration of capitalism; on the other hand, up to now the ruling stratum, personified by Stalin, has been compelled to smash the capitalist tendencies, when they grew too strong, in order to preserve the power of the Stalinist bonapartist clique.

Stalinism has emerged from the war as a regime of crisis. In the political field this is expressed at present by a supplementary press and agitation campaign to still “further reenforce” the power of the state. Every possible variation is being played on this theme. Thus, in connection with the twenty-second anniversary of Lenin’s death, Pravda announced on January 22:

The greatest theoretical and political conquest of Leninism is the doctrine elaborated and theoretically grounded by Stalin – is the doctrine of the development and strengthening of the state under socialism and communism in the conditions of the victory of socialism in one country.(Our emphasis)


In plain language this means that the regime of terror will be still further intensified. Up to now the Soviet people have been promised that the state would begin to “wither away” the moment that the “communist” stage of Soviet development was reached. Today they are warned that there will be no relaxation of Stalin’s rule, not even under “communism.” By virtue of Stalin’s “greatest theoretical and political conquest” it is henceforth “counterrevolutionary” to cite in the USSR not alone Marx and Engels but also Lenin on the withering away of the state.

The “strengthening” of the state inevitably implies a still further concentration of power, especially in Stalin’s own hands. Among the recent reforms has been the abolition of the wartime “Defense Council” as well as of the People’s Commissariats of War. All military departments have been merged into a single body, with all the authority vested in the hands of a single person, Generalissimo Stalin. This surpasses anything done by Hitler, not to mention the wartime measures of Stalin himself. In passing let us note that this “reorganization” at the same time scraps one of the constitutional reforms introduced by the Supreme Soviet Council in 1944, namely: the granting to the 16 autonomous Soviet republics of the right to dispose of their own “independent military formations” and to establish their own commissariats of defense. Needless to say, Stalin thereby violated his own “Constitution” which prohibits amendments of the “supreme law of the land” without the approval of the Supreme Council.

According to the January issues of Pravda a large-scale reorganization of the commissariats in industry is now likewise in progress. These measures “relative to the creation of new People’s Commissariats and the strengthening of others” are emphatically referred to as being “of colossal state importance.” (Pravda, January 23.)

Up to now such measures and such formulations in the press invariably implied a purge. It is possible that a secret purge is actually taking place.

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Last updated on 9.2.2009