Human rights in the Soviet Union

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Human rights in the Soviet Union have been viewed differently, one view by the communist ideology adopted by the Soviet Union and another by its critics. The Soviet Union was established after a revolution that ended centuries of Tsarist monarchy. The emerging Soviet leaders sought to establish a new order and understanding of equality based on Marxist–Leninist ideology.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union ruled the country and mobilized the entire population in support of state ideology and policies. As a result, civil and political rights were limited. The emphasis was placed on the principles of guaranteed economic and social rights.

Human rights[edit]

According to the United Nations human rights are the "basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled."[1] Examples of rights and freedoms which are often thought of as human rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education.[2]

Soviet concept of human rights and legal system[edit]

The Soviet conception of human rights was different from conceptions prevalent in the West. According to Western legal theory, "it is the individual who is the beneficiary of human rights which are to be asserted against the government", whereas Soviet theory states that society as a whole is the beneficiary.[3] Within the Soviet Union, emphasis was placed on economic and social rights such as access to health care, adequate nutrition, education at all levels, and guaranteed employment.[4] The government of the Soviet Union considered these to be the most important rights, without which political and civil rights were meaningless.[4]

It was argued in the West that the Soviets rejected the Western concept of the "rule of law" as the belief that law should be more than just the instrument of politics; the Soviet view on rights was criticized for considering the Marxist–Leninist ideology above natural law.[3]

Freedom of political expression[edit]

In the 1930s and 1940s, political repression was practiced by the Soviet secret police services Cheka, OGPU and NKVD.[5] An extensive network of civilian informants – either volunteers, or those forcibly recruited – was used to collect intelligence for the government and report cases of suspected dissent.[6]

Soviet political repression was a de facto and de jure system of persecution and prosecution of people who were or perceived to be enemies of the Soviet system.[citation needed] Its theoretical basis was the theory of Marxism concerning class struggle. The terms "repression", "terror", and other strong words were official working terms, since the dictatorship of the proletariat was supposed to suppress the resistance of other social classes, which Marxism considered antagonistic to the class of the proletariat. The legal basis of the repression was formalized into Article 58 in the code of the RSFSR and similar articles for other Soviet republics. Aggravation of class struggle under socialism was proclaimed during the Stalinist terror.

Freedom of literary and scientific expression[edit]

Censorship in the Soviet Union was pervasive and strictly enforced.[7] This gave rise to Samizdat, a clandestine copying and distribution of government-suppressed literature. Art, literature, education, and science were placed under strict ideological scrutiny, since they were supposed to serve the interests of the victorious proletariat. Socialist realism is an example of such teleologically-oriented art that promoted socialism and communism. All humanities and social sciences were tested for strict accordance with historical materialism.

All natural sciences were to be founded on the philosophical base of dialectical materialism. Many scientific disciplines, such as genetics, cybernetics, and comparative linguistics, were suppressed in the Soviet Union during some periods, condemned as "bourgeois pseudoscience". At one point Lysenkoism, which many consider a pseudoscience, was favored in agriculture and biology. In the 1930s and 1940s, many prominent scientists were declared to be "wreckers" or enemies of the people and imprisoned. Some scientists worked as prisoners in "Sharashkas" (research and development laboratories within the Gulag labor camp system).

Every large enterprise and institution of the Soviet Union had a First Department that reported to the KGB; the First Department was responsible for secrecy and political security in the workplace.[citation needed]

According to the Soviet Criminal Code, agitation or propaganda carried on for the purpose of weakening Soviet authority, or circulating materials or literature that defamed the Soviet State and social system were punishable by imprisonment for a term of 2–5 years; for a second offense, punishable for a term of 3–10 years.[8]

Right to vote[edit]

Main article: Soviet democracy

According to communist ideologists, the Soviet political system was a true democracy, where workers' councils ("soviets") represented the will of the working class. In particular, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 guaranteed direct universal suffrage with the secret ballot.[9] Practice, however, departed from principle. For example, all candidates had been selected by Communist Party organizations before the June 1987 elections,

Historian Robert Conquest described the Soviet electoral system as "a set of phantom institutions and arrangements which put a human face on the hideous realities: a model constitution adopted in a worst period of terror and guaranteeing human rights, elections in which there was only one candidate, and in which 99 percent voted; a parliament at which no hand was ever raised in opposition or abstention."[10]

Economic rights[edit]

Personal property was allowed, with certain limitations. All real property was considered state or socialist property.[11] Health, housing, education, and nutrition were guaranteed through the provision of full employment and economic welfare structures implemented in the workplace.[11]

However, these guarantees were not always met in practice. For instance, over five million people lacked adequate nutrition and starved to death during the Soviet famine of 1932–1933, one of several Soviet famines.[12] The 1932-33 famine was caused primarily by Soviet-mandated collectivization.[13]

Economic protection was also extended to the elderly and the disabled through the payment of pensions and benefits.[14]

Freedoms of assembly and association[edit]

Freedom of assembly and of association were limited.[citation needed] Workers were not allowed to organize free trade unions. All existing trade unions were organized and controlled by the state.[15] All political youth organizations, such as Pioneer movement and Komsomol served to enforce the policies of the Communist Party. Participation in non-authorized political organizations could result in imprisonment.[8] Organizing in camps could bring the death penalty.[8][need quotation to verify]

Freedom of religion[edit]

St. Vladimir's Cathedral in Astrakhan, which served as a bus station in Soviet times.

The Soviet Union promoted atheism. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed outright.

Some actions against Orthodox priests and believers included torture; being sent to prison camps, labour camps, or mental hospitals; and execution.[16][17][18][19] Many Orthodox (along with peoples of other faiths) were also subjected to psychological punishment or torture and mind control experimentation in an attempt to force them give up their religious convictions (see Punitive psychiatry in the Soviet Union).[17][18][20][21]

Practicing Orthodox Christians were restricted from prominent careers and membership in communist organizations (e.g. the party and the Komsomol). Anti-religious propaganda was openly sponsored and encouraged by the government, to which the Church was not given an opportunity to publicly respond. Seminaries were closed down, and the church was restricted from publishing materials. Atheism was propagated through schools, communist organizations, and the media. Organizations such as the Society of the Godless were created.

Freedom of movement[edit]

January 10, 1973. Jewish refuseniks demonstrate in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the right to emigrate to Israel.

Emigration and any travel abroad were not allowed without an explicit permission from the government. People who were not allowed to leave the country and campaigned for their right to leave in the 1970s were known as "refuseniks". According to the Soviet Criminal Code, a refusal to return from abroad was treason, punishable by imprisonment for a term of 10–15 years, or death with confiscation of property.[8]

The passport system in the Soviet Union restricted migration of citizens within the country through the "propiska" (residential permit/registration system) and the use of internal passports. For a long period of Soviet history, peasants did not have internal passports, and could not move into towns without permission. Many former inmates received "wolf tickets" and were only allowed to live a minimum of 101 km away from city borders. Travel to closed cities and to the regions near USSR state borders was strongly restricted. An attempt to illegally escape abroad was punishable by imprisonment for 1–3 years.[8]

Human rights movement in the Soviet Union[edit]

Human rights activists in the Soviet Union were regularly subjected to harassment, repressions and arrests. In several cases, only the public profile of individual human rights campaigners such as Andrei Sakharov helped prevent a complete shutdown of the movement's activities.

The USSR and other countries of the Soviet bloc had abstained from voting on the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, citing its "overly juridical" character as well as the infringements on national sovereignty that it might enable.[22]:167–169 Although the USSR and some of its allies did sign the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, these documents were neither well-known to people living under Communist rule nor taken seriously by the Communist authorities. Western governments did not emphasize human rights ideas in the early détente period.[23]:117

Nevertheless, a more organized human rights movement grew out of the current of dissent known as "defenders of rights" (pravozashchitniki) of the late 1960s and 1970s.[24] One of its most important samizdat publications, the Chronicle of Current Events, began circulation in 1968, after the United Nations declared the year as the International Year for Human Rights. The following years saw the emergence of several dedicated human rights groups:

  • In May 1969, the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR was founded by Soviet dissidents to unify existing human rights circles. The organization petitioned to the UN Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the victims of Soviet repression. It was dissolved after the arrest and trial of its leading member Peter Yakir.
  • In November 1970, the Committee on Human Rights in the USSR was founded by Andrei Sakharov and other dissidents to publicize Soviet violations of human rights. They wrote appeals, collected signatures for petitions, and attended trials. Sakharov's reputation allowed the Committee to survive, and it succeeded in affiliating with several international human rights organizations.
  • In October 1973, the USSR's section of Amnesty International was founded by 11 Moscow intellectuals and was registered in September 1974 by the Amnesty International Secretariat in London.

The eight member countries of the Warsaw Pact signed the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975. Although the Soviet government had tried hard to prevent the inclusion of human rights in the act, it ultimately accepted a text containing unprecedented commitments that the protection of human rights was a legitimate part of diplomatic relations among the thirty-five states participating in the CSCE.[25]:117 As word on the contents of the Helsinki Final Acts spread through Western broadcasts by the BBC and Radio Liberty, dissidents across the Soviet bloc began to organize independent initiatives to monitor their governments' compliance with the new Helsinki norms, specifically the "third basket" of the Final Act.[25]:99–100 In the years 1976-77, several "Helsinki Watch Groups" were formed in different cities to monitor the Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Final Act. They succeeded in unifying different branches of the human rights movement:[25]:159–166

  • The Lithuanian Helsinki Group was founded in November 1976 to monitor human rights in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. It ceased to exist in 1982 as a result of arrests, deaths, and emigration.[27]
  • The Georgian Helsinki Group was founded in January 1977 to monitor human rights in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was active until the arrest and trial of several members of the group in 1977-1978. It was restarted in the spring of 1985 and eventually became the political party Georgian Helsinki Union, headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia.[28]

Similar initiatives began in Soviet satellite states, such as Charter 77 in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Houghton Miffin Company (2006)
  2. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948". 
  3. ^ a b Lambelet, Doriane. "The Contradiction Between Soviet and American Human Rights Doctrine: Reconciliation Through Perestroika and Pragmatism." 7 Boston University International Law Journal. 1989. p. 61-62.
  4. ^ a b Shiman, David (1999). Economic and Social Justice: A Human Rights Perspective. Amnesty International. ISBN 0-9675334-0-6. 
  5. ^ Anton Antonov-Ovseenko Beria (Russian) Moscow, AST, 1999. Russian text online
  6. ^ Koehler, John O. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. Westview Press. 2000. ISBN 0-8133-3744-5
  7. ^ A Country Study: Soviet Union (Former). Chapter 9 - Mass Media and the Arts. The Library of Congress. Country Studies
  8. ^ a b c d e Biographical Dictionary of Dissidents in the Soviet Union, 1956-1975 By S. P. de Boer, E. J. Driessen, H. L. Verhaar; ISBN 90-247-2538-0; p. 652
  9. ^ Stalin, quoted in IS WAR INEVITABLE? being the full text of the interview given by JOSEPH STALIN to ROY HOWARD as recoded by K. UMANSKY, Friends of the Soviet Union, London, 1936
  10. ^ Robert Conquest Reflections on a Ravaged Century (2000) ISBN 0-393-04818-7, page 97
  11. ^ a b Feldbrugge, Simons (2002). Human Rights in Russia and Eastern Europe: essays in honor of Ger P. van den Berg. Kluwer Law International. ISBN 90-411-1951-5. 
  12. ^ Davies and Wheatcroft, p. 401. For a review, see "Davies & Weatcroft, 2004" (PDF). Warwick. 
  13. ^ "Ukrainian Famine". Ibiblio public library and digital archive. Retrieved 2011-04-21. 
  14. ^ A Study of the Soviet economy, Volume 1. International Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 1991. ISBN 92-64-13468-9. 
  15. ^ A Country Study: Soviet Union (Former). Chapter 5. Trade Unions. The Library of Congress. Country Studies. 2005.
  16. ^ Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Introduction pg. vi - 1. St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 0-88141-180-9
  17. ^ a b L.Alexeeva, History of dissident movement in the USSR, in Russian
  18. ^ a b A.Ginzbourg, "Only one year", "Index" Magazine, in Russian
  19. ^ The Washington Post Anti-Communist Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa By Patricia Sullivan Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, November 26, 2006; Page C09 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/25/AR2006112500783.html
  20. ^ http://litek.ws/k0nsl/detox/anti-humans.htm Dumitru Bacu, The Anti-Humans. Student Re-Education in Romanian Prisons], Soldiers of the Cross, Englewood, Colorado, 1971. Originally written in Romanian as Piteşti, Centru de Reeducare Studenţească, Madrid, 1963
  21. ^ Adrian Cioroianu, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc ("On the Shoulders of Marx. An Incursion into the History of Romanian Communism"), Editura Curtea Veche, Bucharest, 2005
  22. ^ Mary Ann Glendon (2001). A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York. ISBN 9780375760464. 
  23. ^ Thomas, Daniel C. (2005). "Human Rights Ideas, the Demise of Communism, and the End of the Cold War". Journal of Cold War Studies 7 (2): 110–141. doi:10.1162/1520397053630600. 
  24. ^ Horvath, Robert (2005). "The rights-defenders". The Legacy of Soviet Dissent: Dissidents, Democratisation and Radical Nationalism in Russia. London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 70–129. ISBN 9780203412855. 
  25. ^ a b c Thomas, Daniel C. (2001). The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691048598. 
  26. ^ Museum of dissident movement in Ukraine
  27. ^ Museum of dissident movement in Ukraine; Girnius, Saulius (Summer 1984). "The Demise of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group". Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 30 (2). Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  28. ^ Museum of dissident movement in Ukraine
  29. ^ http://museum.khpg.org/eng/index.php?id=1163033553 Museum of dissident movement in Ukraine

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]