1936 Soviet Constitution

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The 1936 Soviet constitution, adopted on December 5, 1936, and also known as the Stalin constitution, redesigned the government of the Soviet Union.

Beginning in 1936, December 5 was celebrated as Soviet Constitution day in the USSR until the 1977 Soviet Constitution moved the day to October 7. Before 1936, there was no Soviet Constitution day.[1]

Basic provisions[edit]

The constitution repealed restrictions on voting and added universal direct suffrage and the right to work to rights guaranteed by the previous constitution. In addition, the Constitution recognized collective social and economic rights including the rights to work, rest and leisure, health protection, care in old age and sickness, housing, education, and cultural benefits. The constitution also provided for the direct election of all government bodies and their reorganization into a single, uniform system. It was written by a special commission of 31 members which Joseph Stalin chaired. Those who participated included (among others) Andrei Vyshinsky, Andrei Zhdanov, Maksim Litvinov, Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Nikolai Bukharin and Karl Radek, though the latter two had less active input.[2]

Nomenclature changes[edit]

The 1936 constitution replaced the Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union and its Central Executive Committee by the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Like its predecessor, the Supreme Soviet contained two chambers: the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of Nationalities. The constitution empowered the Supreme Soviet to elect commissions, which performed most of the Supreme Soviet's work. As under the former constitution, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet exercised the full powers of the Supreme Soviet between sessions and had the right to interpret laws. The Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet became the titular head of state. The Sovnarkom (after 1946 known as the Council of Ministers) continued to act as the executive arm of the government.

Of the four Soviet constitutions, the 1936 constitution survived longest. It was amended in 1944 but replaced in 1977. (See 1977 Soviet Constitution.)

Leading role of Communist Party[edit]

For the first time, the role of the Communist Party was clearly defined. Article 126 stated that the party was "vanguard of the working people in their struggle to strengthen and develop the socialist system and is the leading core of all organizations of the working people, both public and state." This provision was used to justify banning all other parties from functioning in the Soviet Union.

Soviet portrayal and liberal criticism[edit]

The constitution provided economic rights not included in constitutions in the western democracies. The constitution was presented as a personal triumph for Stalin, who on this occasion was described by Pravda as "genius of the new world, the wisest man of the epoch, the great leader of communism."[3] Western historians and historians from former Soviet countries have seen the constitution as a propaganda document. Leonard Schapiro, for example, writes that "The decision to alter the electoral system from indirect to direct election, from a limited to a universal franchise, and from open to secret voting, was a measure of the confidence of the party in its ability to ensure the return of candidates of its own choice without the restrictions formerly considered necessary," and that "...a careful scrutiny of the draft of the new constitution showed that it left the party's supreme position unimpaired, and was therefore worthless as a guarantee of individual rights."[4]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Article 124 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, the inclusion of which was opposed by large segments of the Communist Party. The article resulted in members of the Russian Orthodox Church petitioning to reopen closed churches, gain access to jobs that had been closed to them as religious figures, and the attempt to run religious candidates in the 1937 elections.[5]

Reorganization of the armed forces and the republics[edit]

The 1944 amendments to the 1936 Constitution established separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic. They also established Republic-level commissariats for foreign affairs and defense, allowing them to be recognized as sovereign states in international law. This allowed for two Soviet Republics, Ukraine and Byelorussia, to join the United Nations General Assembly as founding members in 1945.[6][7][8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Russian, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0415320941 (page 250)
  2. ^ "State and Society Under Stalin: Constitutions and Elections in the 1930s," article by J. Arch Getty in Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1991). p. 19, 22.
  3. ^ Pravda, November 25, 1936.
  4. ^ Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 2nd ed., Random House, New York, 1971, pp. 410-411.
  5. ^ Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1999. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 179.
  6. ^ "Walter Duranty Explains Changes In Soviet Constitution," Miami News, Feb. 6 1944
  7. ^ League of Nations Timeline - Chronology 1944
  8. ^ United Nations - Founding Members

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