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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Socialist Legality

Soviet law displayed many special characteristics that derived from the socialist (see Glossary) nature of the Soviet state and reflected Marxist-Leninist ideology. Lenin accepted the Marxist conception of the law and the state as instruments of coercion in the hands of the bourgeoisie and postulated the creation of popular, informal tribunals to administer revolutionary justice. Alongside this utopian trend, a dictatorial trend developed that advocated the use of law and legal institutions to suppress all opposition to the regime. The latter trend reached its zenith under Stalin, when the administration of justice was carried out mainly by the security police in special tribunals. During the deStalinization of the Khrushchev era, a new trend developed, based on socialist legality (see Glossary), that stressed the need to protect the procedural and statutory rights of citizens, while still calling for obedience to the state. New legal codes, introduced in 1960, were part of the effort to establish legal norms in administering laws. Although socialist legality remained in force after 1960, the dictatorial and utopian trends continued to influence the legal process. Persecution of political and religious dissenters, in flagrant violation of their legal rights, continued, but at the same time there was a tendency to decriminalize lesser offenses by handing them over to people's courts (see Glossary) and administrative agencies and dealing with them by education rather than by incarceration.

By late 1986, the Gorbachev regime was stressing anew the importance of individual rights in relation to the state and criticizing those who violated the procedural laws in implementing Soviet justice. This signaled a resurgence of socialist legality as the dominant trend. It should be noted, however, that socialist legality itself still lacked important features associated with Western jurisprudence. In particular, the ultimate control of the legal system lay with the party leadership, which was not democratically elected by, and therefore not responsible to, the public at large.

Data as of May 1989