Law of Spikelets

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The Law of Spikelets or Law of Three Spikelets (Russian: Закон о трёх колосках) was a law in the Soviet Union to protect state property of kolkhozes (Soviet collective farms)—especially the grain they produced—from theft. Although the formal name of the law was longer, the common names Law of Spikelets or Law of Three Spikelets came into use because the law was used to prosecute not only real thieves (such as corrupt officials) but also anyone who even gleaned as little as a handful of grain or spikelets left behind in the fields after the entire harvest was officially collected and counted. It was thus a draconian measure, effectively a law of specks, where even 3 specks of food in a starving person's pocket during the Soviet famine of 1932–33 qualified them as a thief of state-owned food in the government's view.

The law was based on the decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR, "About protection of the property of state enterprises, kolkhozes and cooperatives, and strengthening of the public (socialist) property", dated 7 August, 1932.

The law was also known as the "Seven Eighths Law" (Закон 'семь восьмых', Zakon “sem’ vos’mykh”“), because the date in Russian is filled into forms as 7/8/1932.[1]

  • The preamble stated that the communal property (state, kolkhoz, or cooperative property) is fundamental for the Soviet social order, therefore people who try to appropriate it must be treated as enemies of the people.
  • Section I covers theft at railways and of water communications.
  • Section II covers theft of kolkhoz and cooperative property.
  • Section III of the law covers violence, threats and intimidation of kolkhozniks. The punishment was 5 to 10 years of prison camp time.

The primary punishment for theft according to this law was execution by shooting. Under extenuating circumstances the punishment was at least 10 years of imprisonment. In all cases convicts' personal property was to be confiscated.

Convicts for crimes covered by this law were not subject to amnesty.

The law was signed by Mikhail Kalinin, Vyacheslav Molotov (Skryabin), and Avel Enukidze.

The accompanying "Instruction on the Application of the Decree of 8/8/1932" detailed that the death sentence was to be applied with respect to organized and systematic theft, to theft accompanied with arson and other destruction, as well as with respect to "kulaks, former merchants and other socially alien elements". Ordinary kolkhosniks and non-collectivized peasants (edinolichniks), as well as minor theft on transport was to be punished with 10 years of imprisonment.[2]

It has been estimated that a quarter of a million people were charged by the OGPU and there were more than 200,000 sentences (normally of 5 – 10 years in the Gulag) of which more than 11,000 seem to have been death sentences.[3]