1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union
|1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union|
|Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union|
|Territorial extent||Soviet Union|
|Enacted by||Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union|
|Signed by||Joseph Stalin|
|Effective||5 December 1936|
|Repealed||7 October 1977|
The 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union, also known as the Stalin Constitution, was the constitution of the Soviet Union adopted on 5 December 1936.
The 1936 Constitution was the second constitution of the Soviet Union and replaced the 1924 Constitution, with 5 December being celebrated annually as Soviet Constitution Day from its adoption by the Congress of Soviets. The 1936 Constitution redesigned the government of the Soviet Union, nominally granted all manner of rights and freedoms, and spelled out a number of democratic procedures. The Congress of Soviets replaced itself with the Supreme Soviet, which amended the 1936 Constitution in 1944.
In practice, the 1936 Constitution asserted the "leading role" of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and legally cemented the totalitarian control of the party by General Secretary Joseph Stalin preceding the Great Purge. Many Eastern Bloc countries later adopted constitutions that were closely modeled on the 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union.
Historian J. Arch Getty concludes:
- Many who lauded Stalin's Soviet Union as the most democratic country on earth lived to regret their words. After all, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 was adopted on the eve of the Great Terror of the late 1930s; the "thoroughly democratic" elections to the first Supreme Soviet permitted only uncontested candidates and took place at the height of the savage violence in 1937. The civil rights, personal freedoms, and democratic forms promised in the Stalin constitution were trampled almost immediately and remained dead letters until long after Stalin's death.
The 1936 Constitution became the longest surviving constitution of the Soviet Union. It was replaced by the 1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union ("Brezhnev Constitution") on 7 October 1977.
The 1936 Constitution repealed restrictions on voting, abolishing the lishentsy category of people, and added universal direct suffrage and the right to work to rights guaranteed by the previous constitution. In addition, the 1936 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 1936 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 General Secretary Joseph Stalin chaired. Those who participated included (among others) Andrey Vyshinsky, Andrei Zhdanov, Maxim Litvinov, Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Nikolai Bukharin, and Karl Radek, though the latter two had less active input.
The 1936 Constitution replaced the Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union with the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. 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. The Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets was replaced by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet which, much like its predecessor, 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 of the Soviet Union. The Council of People's Commissars, known after 1946 as the Council of Ministers, continued to act as the executive arm of the government.
The 1936 Constitution changed the names of all Union Republics, the constituent states of the Soviet Union, transposing the second word "socialist" and third word "soviet" (or equivalent e.g. "radianska" in Ukrainian). Republics were named after the primary nationality and followed by "Soviet Socialist Republic" (SSR), except for the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
The Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, one of the four republics to sign the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, was dissolved and its constituent republics, the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic, were elevated to union republics individually.
Leading role of Communist Party
The 1936 constitution specifically mentioned the role of the ruling All-Union Communist Party for the first time. Article 126 stated that the Party was the "vanguard of the working people in their struggle to strengthen and develop the socialist system and representing 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 and legalizing the one-party state.
Soviet portrayal and liberal criticism
The 1936 Constitution enumerated 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". However, historians have seen the constitution as a propaganda document. Leonard Schapiro, for example, writes: "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". Isaac Deutscher called it "a veil of liberal phrases and premises over the guillotine in the background". Hannah Arendt observed that it was hailed as the ending of the Soviet Union's "revolutionary period", but was immediately followed by the country's most intense purges in its history, the Great Purge in which many of the constitution's organizers and draftees — such as Yakov Yakovlev, Aleksei Stetskii, Boris Markovich Tal', Vlas Chubar, Karl Radek, Nikolai Bukharin, and Ivan Akulov — were imprisoned or murdered on charges of being counterrevolutionary shortly after their work was complete.
Freedom of religion and speech
Article 124 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, the inclusion of which was opposed by large segments of the All-Union Communist Party. The new constitution re-enfranchised certain religious people who had been specifically disenfranchised under the previous constitution. 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.
Article 125 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of speech of the press and freedom of assembly. However, these "rights" were circumscribed elsewhere, so the erstwhile "freedom of the press" ostensibly guaranteed by Article 125 was of no practical consequence as Soviet law held that "Before these freedoms can be exercised, any proposed writing or assembly must be approved by a censor or a licensing bureau, in order that the censorship bodies shall be able to exercise "ideological leadership."
The 1944 amendments to the 1936 Constitution established separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic, and 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.
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[...] with the exception of the 1924 Mongolian Constitution, all of the constitutions of the Eastern European and Asian Communist states were adopted after the second USSR Constitution of 1936 had been promulgated in which the first direct mention of the Communist Party can at last be found.
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Статья 126. В соответствии с интересами трудящихся и в целях развития организационной самодеятельности и политической активности народных масс гражданам СССР обеспечивается право объединения в общественные организации: профессиональные союзы, кооперативные объединения, организации молодежи, спортивные и оборонные организации, культурные, технические и научные общества, а наиболее активные и сознательные граждане из рядов рабочего класса и других слоев трудящихся объединяются во Всесоюзную коммунистическую партию (большевиков), являющуюся передовым отрядом трудящихся в их борьбе за укрепление и развитие социалистического строя и представляющую руководящее ядро всех организаций трудящихся, как общественных, так и государственных.
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- This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/. – Soviet Union