Soviet Union Table of Contents
The political theory underlying the Soviet Constitution differed from the political theory underlying constitutions in the West. Democratic constitutions are fundamentally prescriptive; they define a set of political relations to which their governments and citizens aspire. By contrast, Soviet constitutions have purported to describe a set of political relationships already in existence. Thus, as changes have occurred in the socioeconomic and political systems, the government has adopted new constitutions that have conformed to the new sets of realities.
The 1977 Constitution was generally descriptive; it differed from past constitutions in containing a preamble and a section on foreign policy that were prescriptive in tone. The Soviet Union has been governed by four constitutions, ratified in 1918, 1924, 1936, and 1977, respectively. On the surface, the four constitutions have resembled many constitutions adopted in the West. The differences between Soviet and Western constitutions, however, overshadowed the similarities. Soviet constitutions appeared to guarantee certain political rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly, and religious belief. They also identified a series of economic and social rights, as well as a set of duties that obligated all citizens. Nevertheless, Soviet constitutions did not contain provisions guaranteeing the inalienable rights of the citizenry, and they lacked the machinery to protect individual rights contained in many democratic constitutions. Thus, the population enjoyed political rights only to the extent that these rights conformed to the interests of building socialism (see Glossary). The CPSU alone reserved the authority to determine what lay in the interests of socialism. Finally, Soviet constitutions specified the form and content of regime symbols, such as the arms, the flag, and the state anthem.
The four constitutions had provisions in common. These provisions expressed the theoretical sovereignty of the working class and the leading role of the CPSU in government and society. All the constitutions have upheld the forms of socialist property (see Glossary). Each of the constitutions has called for a system of soviets, or councils, to exercise governmental authority.
Data as of May 1989