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Soviet Criminal Justice Under Stalin

NCJ Number
P H Solomon H,
Date Published
506 pages
The administration of criminal law in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under Stalin represents a classic example of an authoritarian approach.
Stalin treated the criminal law in a clearly instrumental way, as a political resource that did not require the consent of the public or officials charged with implementation of the law. At the same time, the work of investigators, procurators, and judges was subordinate to political leaders at all levels of the administrative hierarchy and subject to their direction. The basic traits of Soviet criminal justice were already present under Lenin, before Stalin and Stalinist politics had left their mark. Bolshevik leaders fashioned Soviet criminal law to suit their vision and adapted it to reflect their immediate needs. To administer the law, these leaders relied on political trustees, ordinary members of the Communist Party, and effectively subordinated them to local party officials. The strength and utility of criminal law as an instrument of rule, however, was weakened and partially obscured by novelties in the Bolshevik approach to law. Revolutionary fervor also contributed to the popularity of antilaw views. Nonetheless, over time, Stalin addressed most of the contradictions and deficiencies in Soviet criminal justice and succeeded by the end of his life in making criminal law a reliable tool for Soviet rulers. At the core of Stalin's quest to enhance the utility of criminal law was the centralization of power in the justice realm. The history of Soviet criminal justice under Stalin is detailed according to four phases: (1) design of an experiment; (2) years of collectivization; (3) conservative shift; and (4) Stalinist synthesis. References, footnotes, and tables