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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Constitutional Rights

Like democratic constitutions, the Soviet Constitution included a series of civic and political rights. Among these were the rights to freedom of speech, press, and assembly and the right to religious belief and worship. In addition, the Constitution provided for freedom of artistic work, protection of the family, inviolability of the person and home, and the right to privacy. In line with the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the regime, the Constitution also granted certain social and economic rights. Among these were the rights to work, rest and leisure, health protection, care in old age and sickness, housing, education, and cultural benefits.

Unlike democratic constitutions, however, the Soviet Constitution placed limitations on political rights. Article 6 effectively eliminated organized opposition to the regime by granting to the CPSU the power to lead and guide society. Article 39 enabled the government to prohibit any activities it considered detrimental by stating that "Enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of citizens must not be to the detriment of the interests of society or the state." Article 59 obliged citizens to obey the laws and comply with the standards of socialist society as determined by the party. The regime did not treat as inalienable those political and socioeconomic rights the Constitution granted to the people.

Citizens enjoyed rights only when the exercise of those rights did not interfere with the interests of socialism, and the CPSU alone had the power and authority to determine policies for the government and society (see Lenin's Conception of the Party , ch. 7). For example, the right to freedom of expression contained in Article 52 could be suspended if the exercise of that freedom failed to be in accord with party policies. Until the era of glasnost' (see Glossary), freedom of expression did not entail the right to criticize the regime. The government had the power to ban meetings by unsanctioned religious groups, and violations of the laws limiting the right to freedom of religious expression were severely punished under the republics' criminal codes.

The Constitution also failed to provide political and judicial mechanisms for the protection of rights. Thus, the Constitution lacked explicit guarantees protecting the rights of the people, contained in the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. In fact, the Supreme Soviet has never introduced amendments specifically designed to protect individual rights. Neither did the people have a higher authority within the government to which to appeal when they believed their rights had been violated. The Supreme Court had no power to ensure that constitutional rights were observed by legislation or were respected by the rest of the government. Although the Soviet Union signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe ( Helsinki Accords--see Glossary), which mandated that internationally recognized human rights be respected in the signatory countries, no authority outside the Soviet Union could ensure citizen rights and freedoms. The government generally has failed to observe the provisions of this act. In the late 1980s, however, realigning constitutional and domestic law with international commitments on human rights was publicly debated.

Data as of May 1989