Iosif Stalin, On the Draft Constitution. November 25, 1936
Original Source: O proekte konstitutsii Soiuza S.S.R. (Moscow, 1936).
I. Formation of the Constitution Commission and its Tasks
Comrades, the Constitution Commission, whose draft has been submitted for consideration to the present Congress, was formed, as you know, by special decision of the Seventh Congress of Soviets of the USSR. This decision was adopted on February 6, 1935.
… The day after this decision was adopted, i.e., February 7, 1935, the first Session of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR met and, in pursuance of the decision of the Seventh Congress of Soviets of the USSR, set up a Constitution Commission consisting of thirty-one persons. It instructed the Constitution Commission to prepare a draft of an amended Constitution of the USSR
II. Changes in the Life of the USSR in the Period From 1924 to 1936
What are the changes in the life of the USSR that have been brought about in the period from 1924 to 1936 and which the Constitution Commission was to reflect in its Draft Constitution?
What is the essence of these changes?
What was the situation in 1924?
At that time we were in the first period of the New Economic Policy, the beginning of NEP, the period of a certain revival of capitalism; now, however, we are in the last period of NEP, the end of NEP, the period of the complete liquidation of capitalism in all spheres of the national economy.
And what does this mean?
It means that the exploitation of man has been abolished, eliminated, while the Socialist ownership of the implements and means of production has been established as the unshakable foundation of our Soviet society. [Prolonged applause.]
As a result of all these changes in the sphere of the national economy of the USSR, we now have a new, Socialist economy, which knows neither crises nor unemployment, which knows neither poverty nor ruin, and which provides our citizens with every opportunity to lead a prosperous and cultured life.
In conformity with these changes in the economic life of the USSR, the class structure of our society has also changed.
The landlord class, as you know, had already been eliminated as a result of the victorious conclusion of the civil war. As for the other exploiting classes, they have shared the fate of the landlord class. The capitalist class in the sphere of industry has ceased to exist. The kulak class in the sphere of agriculture has ceased to exist. And the merchants and profiteers in the sphere of trade have ceased to exist. Thus all the exploiting classes have now been eliminated.
There remains the working class.
There remains the peasant class.
There remains the intelligentsia.
But it would be a mistake to think that these social groups have undergone no change during this period, that they have remained the same as they were, say, in the period of capitalism.
Take, for example, the working class of the USSR By force of habit, it is often called the proletariat. But what is the proletariat? The proletariat is a class bereft of the instruments and means of production, under an economic system in which the instruments and means of production have been taken for the capitalists and transferred to the state, of which the leading force is the working class. Consequently, there is no longer a capitalist class which would exploit the working class… This being the case, can our working class be called the proletariat? Clearly, it cannot… And what does this mean? This means that the proletariat of the USSR has been transformed into an entirely new class, into the working class of’ the USSR, which has abolished the capitalist economic system, which has established the Socialist ownership of the instruments and means of production and is directing Soviet society along the road to Communism.
… Let us pass on to the question of the peasantry… In our country there are no longer any landlords and kulaks, merchants and usurers who could exploit the peasants. Consequently, our peasantry is a peasantry emancipated from exploitation. Further. Our Soviet peasantry, its overwhelming majority is a collective farm peasantry, i.e., it bases its work and wealth not on individual labor and on backward technical equipment, but on collective labor and up-to-date technical equipment. Finally, the economy of our peasantry is based not on private property, but on collective property, which has grown up on the basis of collective labor.
Lastly, let us pass on to the question of the intelligentsia, to the question of engineers and technicians, of workers on the cultural front, of employees in general, and so on. The intelligentsia, too, has undergone great changes during this period. It is no longer the old hidebound intelligentsia which tried to place itself above classes, but which actually, for the most part, served the landlords and the capitalists. Our Soviet intelligentsia is an entirely new intelligentsia, bound up by its very roots with the working class and the peasantry. In the first place, the composition of the intelligentsia has changed. People who come from the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie constitute but a small percentage of our Soviet intelligentsia; 80 to 90 per cent of the Soviet intelligentsia are people who have come from the working class, from the peasantry, or from other strata of the working population. Finally, the very nature of the activities of the intelligentsia has changed. Formerly it had to serve the wealthy classes, for it had no alternative. Today it must serve the people, for there are no longer any exploiting classes. And that is precisely why it is now an equal member of Soviet society, in which, side by side with the workers and peasants, pulling together with them, it is engaged in building the new, classless, Socialist society.
What do these changes signify?
Firstly, they signify that the dividing lines between the working class and the peasantry, and between these classes and the intelligentsia, are being obliterated, and that the old class exclusiveness is disappearing. This means that the distance between these social groups is steadily diminishing.
Secondly, they signify that the economic contradictions between these social groups are declining, are becoming obliterated.
And lastly, they signify that the political contradictions between them are also declining and, becoming obliterated.
Such is the position in regard to the changes in the class structure of the USSR
III. The Principal Specific Features of the Draft Constitution
How are all these changes in the life of the USSR reflected in the draft of the new Constitution?
… In drafting the new Constitution, the Constitution Commission proceeded from the proposition that a constitution must not be confused with a program… Whereas a program speaks of that which does not yet exist, of that which has yet to be achieved and won in the future, a constitution, on the contrary, must speak of that which already exists, -of that which has already
been achieved and won now, at the present time. A Program deals mainly with the future, a constitution with the present.
Two examples by way of illustration.
Our Soviet society has already, in the main, succeeded in achieving Socialism; it has created a Socialist system, i.e., it has brought about what Marxists in other words call the first or lower, phase of Communism, Hence, in the main, we have already achieved the first phase of Communism, Socialism. The fundamental principle of this phase of Communism is, as you know, the formula: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his work.” Should our constitution reflect this fact, the fact that Socialism has been achieved? Should it be based on this achievement? Unquestionably, it should. It should, because for the US S.-R. Socialism is something already achieved and won.
But Soviet society has not yet reached the higher phase of Communism, in which the ruling principle will be the formula: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.-.!; although it sets itself the aim of achieving the higher phase of Communism in the future. Can our Constitution be based on the higher phase of Communism, which does not yet exist and which has still to be achieved? No. it cannot, because for the USSR the higher phase of Communism is something that has not yet been realized, and which has to be realized in the future. It cannot, if it is not to be converted into a program or a declaration of future achievements.
Such are the limits of our Constitution at the present historical moment.
Further. The constitutions of bourgeois countries usually proceed from the conviction that the capitalist system is immutable.
Unlike these, the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR proceeds from the, fact that the capitalist system has been liquidated, and that the Socialist system has triumphed in the USSR The main foundation of the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR is the principles of Socialism, whose main pillars are things that have already been achieved and realized: the Socialist ownership of the land, forests, factories, works and other instruments and means of production; the abolition of exploitation and of exploiting classes; the abolition of poverty for the majority and of luxury for the minority; the abolition of unemployment; work as an obligation and an honorable duty for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the formula; “He who does not work, neither shall he eat”; the right to work, i.e., the right of every citizen to receive guaranteed employment; the right to rest and leisure; the right to education, etc. The draft of the new Constitution rests on these and similar pillars of Socialism. It reflects them, it embodies them in law.
Such is the second specific feature of the draft of the new Constitution.
Further. Bourgeois constitutions tacitly proceed from the premise that society consists of antagonistic classes, of classes which own wealth and classes which do not own wealth; that no matter what party comes into power, the guidance of society by the state (the dictatorship) must be in the hands of the bourgeoisie; that a constitution is needed for the purpose of consolidating a social order desired by and beneficial to the propertied classes.
Unlike bourgeois constitutions, the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR proceeds from the fact that there are no longer any antagonistic classes in society; that society consists of two friendly classes, of workers and peasants; that it is these classes, the laboring classes, that are in power; that the guidance of society by the state (the dictatorship) is in the hands of the working class, the most advanced class in society; that a constitution is needed for the purpose of consolidating a social order desired by and beneficial to the working people.
Such is the third specific feature of the draft of the new Constitution.
Further. Bourgeois constitutions tacitly proceed from the premise that nations and races cannot have equal rights, that there are nations with full rights and nations without full rights, and that in addition, there is a third category of nations or races for example in the colonies, which have even fewer rights than the nations without full rights. This means that, at bottom, all these constitutions are nationalistic, i.e., constitutions of ruling nations.
Unlike these constitutions, the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR is, on the contrary, profoundly internationalist. It proceeds from the proposition that all nations and races have equal rights. It proceeds from the fact that neither difference in color or language, cultural level, or level of political development, nor any other difference between nations and races, can serve as grounds for justifying national inequality of rights. It proceeds from the proposition that all nations and races, irrespective of their past and present position, irrespective of their strength or weakness, should enjoy equal rights in all spheres of the -economic, social, political and cultural life of society.
Such is the fourth specific feature of the draft of the new Constitution.
The fifth specific feature of the draft of the new Constitution is its consistent and, thorough going democratism. From the standpoint of democratism bourgeois constitutions may be divided into two groups: One group of constitutions openly denies, or actually nullifies, the equality of rights of citizens and democratic liberties. The other group of constitutions readily accepts, and even advertises, democratic principles, but at the same time it makes reservations and provides for restrictions which utterly mutilate these democratic rights and liberties. They speak of equal suffrage for citizens, but at the same time limit it by residential, educational, and even property qualifications. They speak of equal rights for citizens, but at the same time they make the reservation that this does not apply to women, or applies to them only in part. And so on and so forth.
What distinguishes the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR is the fact that it is free from such reservations and restrictions. For it, there exists no division of citizens into active and passive ones; for it, all citizens are active. It does not recognize any difference in rights as between men and women. “residents” and “non-residents,” propertied and unpropertied, educated and uneducated. For it, all citizens have equal rights It is not property status, not national origin, not sex, nor office, but personal- ability and personal labor, that determines the position of every citizen in society.
Lastly, there is still one more specific feature of the draft of the new Constitution. Bourgeois constitutions usually confine themselves to stating the formal rights of citizens, without bothering about the conditions for the exercise of these rights, about the opportunity of exercising them, about the means by which they can be exercised.
What distinguishes the draft of the new Constitution is the fact that it does not confine itself to stating the formal rights of citizens, but stresses the guarantees of these rights the means by which these rights can be exercised. It does not merely proclaim equality of rights for citizens, but ensures it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that the regime of exploitation has been abolished, to the fact that the citizens have been emancipated from all exploitation. It does not merely proclaim the right to work, but ensures it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that there are no crises in Soviet society, and that unemployment has been abolished. It does not merely proclaim democratic liberties, but legislatively ensures them by providing definite material resources.
IV. Bourgeois Criticism of the Draft Constitution
I must admit that the draft of the new Constitution does preserve the regime of the dictatorship of the working class, just as it also preserves unchanged the present leading position of the Communist Party of the USSR. [Loud applause.] if the esteemed critics regard this as a flaw in the Draft Constitution, that is only to be regretted. We Bolsheviks regard it as a merit of the draft Constitution. (Loud applause.]
As to freedom for various political parties, we adhere to somewhat different views. A party is a part of a class, its most advanced part. Several parties, and, consequently, freedom for parties, can exist only in a society in which there are antagonistic classes whose interests are mutually hostile and irreconcilable–in which there are, say, capitalists and workers, landlords and peasants, kulaks and poor peasants, etc. But in the USSR there are no longer such classes as the capitalists, the landlords, the kulaks, etc. In the USSR there are only two classes, workers and peasants, whose interests–far from being mutually hostile–are, on the contrary, friendly. Hence, there is no ground in the USSR for the existence of several parties, and, consequently, for freedom for these parties. In the USSR there is ground only for one party, the Communist Party. In the USSR only one party can exist, the Communist Party, which courageously defends the interests of the workers and peasants to the very end…
They talk of democracy. But what is democracy? Democracy in capitalist countries, where there are antagonistic classes, is, in the last analysis, democracy for the strong, democracy for the propertied minority. In the USSR, on the contrary democracy is democracy for the working people,. i.e., democracy for all. But from this it follows that the principles of democratism are violated, not by the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR, but by the bourgeois constitutions. That is why I think that the Constitution of the USSR is the only thoroughly democratic Constitution in the world.
V. Amendments and Addenda to the Draft Constitution
1. First of all about the amendments to Article 1 of the Draft Constitution. There are four amendments. Some propose that we substitute for the words “state of workers and peasants” the words “state of working people.'” Others propose that we add the words “and working intelligentsia” to the words “State of workers and peasants.” A third group proposes that we substitute for the words “state of workers and peasants” the words “state of all the races and nationalities inhabiting the territory of the USSR.” A fourth group proposes that we substitute for the word “peasants” the words “collective farmers” or “toilers of Socialist agriculture.”
Should these amendments be adopted? I think they should not.
What does Article 1 of the Draft Constitution speak of ? It speaks of the class composition of Soviet society. Can we Marxists ignore the question of the class composition of our society in the Constitution? No, we cannot. As we know, Soviet society consists of two classes, workers and peasants. And it is of this that Article 1 of the Draft Constitution speaks. Consequently, Article I of the Draft Constitution properly reflects the class composition of our society. It may be asked: What about the working intelligentsia? The intelligentsia has never been a class, and never can be a class–it was and remains a stratum, which recruits its members from among all classes of society. In the old days the intelligentsia recruited its members from the ranks of the nobility, of the bourgeoisie, partly from the ranks of the peasantry, and only to a very inconsiderable extent from the ranks of the workers. In our day, under the Soviets, the intelligentsia recruits its members mainly from the ranks of the workers and peasants. But no matter where it may recruit it’s members, and what character it may bear, the intelligentsia is nevertheless a stratum and not a class.
The same must be said of the nations and races comprising the USSR In Chapter Il of the Draft Constitution it is stated that the USSR is a free union of nations possessing equal rights. Is it worth while repeating this formula in Article I of the Draft Constitution, which deals not with the national composition of Soviet society, but with its class composition? Clearly, it is not worth while. As to the rights of the nations and races comprising the USSR, these are dealt with in Chapters II, X, and XI -of the Draft Constitution. From these chapters it is evident that the nations and races of the USSR enjoy equal rights in all spheres of the economic, political, social, and cultural life of the country. Consequently, there can be no question of an infringement upon national rights.
2. Then follows an amendment to Article 17 of the Draft Constitution. The amendment proposes that we completely delete from the Constitution Article 17, which reserves to the Union Republics the rights of free secession from the USSR I think that this proposal is a wrong one and therefore should not be adopted by the Congress. The USSR is a voluntary union of Union Republics with equal rights. To delete from the Constitution the article providing for the right of free secession from the USSR would be to violate the voluntary character of this union. Can we agree to this step? I think that we cannot and should not agree to it. It is said that there is not a single republic in the USSR that would want to secede from the USSR, and that therefore Article 17 is of no practical importance. It is, of course, true that there is not a single republic that would want to secede from the USSR. But this does not in the least mean that we should not fix in the Constitution the right of Union Republics freely to secede from the USSR. In the USSR there is not a single Union Republic that would want to subjugate another Union Republic. But this does not in the least mean that we ought to delete from the Constitution of the USSR the article dealing with, the equality of rights of the Union Republics.
3. Then there is a proposal that we add a new article to Chapter Il of the Draft Constitution, to the following effect: that on reaching the proper level of economic and cultural development Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics may be raised to the status of Union Soviet Socialist Republics. Can this proposal be adopted? I think that it should not be adopted. It is a wrong proposal not only because of its content, but also because of the condition it lays down. Economic and cultural maturity can no more be urged as grounds for transferring Autonomous Republics to the category of Union Republics than economic or cultural backwardness can be urged as grounds for leaving any particular republic in the list of Autonomous Republics. This would not be a Marxist, not a Leninist approach. The Tatar Republic, for example, remains an Autonomous Republic, while the Kazakh Republic is to become a Union Republic; but this does not mean that from the standpoint of cultural and social development the Kazakh Republic is on a higher level than the Tatar Republic. The very opposite is the case. The same can be said, for example, of the Volga German Autonomous Republic and the Kirghiz Union Republic, of which the former is on a higher cultural and economic level than the latter, although it remains an Autonomous Republic.
What are the grounds for transferring Autonomous Republics to the category of Union Republics? There are three such grounds. First the republic concerned must be a border republic, not surrounded on all sides by a USSR territory. Why? Because since the Union Republics have the right to secede from the USSR, a republic, on becoming a Union Republic, must be in a position logically and actually to raise the question of secession from the USSR And this question can be raised only by a republic which, say, borders on some foreign state, and, consequently, is not surrounded on all sides by USSR territory. Of course, none of our republics would actually raise the question of seceding from the USSR But since the right to secede from the USSR is reserved to the Union Republics, it must be so arranged that this right does not become a meaningless scrap of paper. Take, for example, the Bashkir Republic or the Tatar Republic. Let us assume that these Autonomous Republics are transferred to the category of Union Republics. Could they logically and actually raise the question of seceding from the USSR? No, they could not. Why? Because they are surrounded on all sides by Soviet republics and regions, and, strictly speaking, they have nowhere to go to if they secede from the USSR (Laughter and applause.] Therefore, it would be wrong to transfer such republics to the category of Union Republics.
Secondly, the nationality which gives its name to a given Soviet republic must constitute a more or less compact majority republic., Take the Crimean Autonomous Republic, for example. It is a border republic, but the Crimean Tatars do not constitute the majority in that republic; on the contrary, they are a minority. Consequently; it would be wrong and illogical to transfer the Crimean Republic to the category of Union Republics.
Thirdly, the republic must not have too small a population; it should have a population of, say, not less but more than a million, at least. Why? Because it would be wrong to assume that a small Soviet Republic with a very small population and a small army could hope to maintain its existence as an independent state. There can hardly be any doubt that the imperialist beasts of prey would soon lay hands on it.
I think that unless these three objective grounds exist, it would be wrong at the present historical moment to raise the question of transferring any particular Autonomous Republic to the category of Union Republics.
8. Then follows an addendum to Article 40, proposing that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet be granted the right to pass provisional acts of legislation. I think, that this addendum is wrong and should not be adopted by the Congress. It is time we put an end to a situation in which not one but a number of bodies legislate. Such a situation runs counter to the principle that laws should be stable. And we need stability of laws now more than ever. Legislative power in the USSR must be exercised only by one body, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
9. Further, an addendum is proposed to Article 48 of the Draft Constitution, demanding that the President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR be elected not by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR but by the whole population of the country. I think this addendum is wrong, because it runs counter to the spirit of our Constitution. According to the system of our Constitution there must not be an individual president in the USSR, elected by the whole population on a par with the Supreme Soviet, and able to put himself in opposition to the Supreme Soviet. The president in the USSR is a collegium it is the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, elected not by the whole population, but by the Supreme Soviet, and accountable to the Supreme Soviet. Historical experience shows that such a structure of the supreme bodies is the most democratic and safeguards the country against undesirable contingencies.
12. Next follows an amendment to Article 124 of the Draft Constitution, demanding that the article be changed to provide for the prohibition of the performance of religious rites. I think that this amendment should be rejected as running counter to the spirit of our Constitution.
13. Finally, there is one other amendment of a more or less material character. I am referring to an amendment to Article 135 of the Draft Constitution. It proposes that ministers of religion, former White Guards, all the former rich, and persons not engaged in socially useful occupations be disfranchised, or, at all events, that the franchise of people in this category be restricted to the right to elect, but not to be elected. I think that this amendment should be likewise be rejected. The Soviet government disfranchised the non-working and exploiting elements not for all time, but temporarily, up to a certain period. There was a time when these elements waged open war against the people and actively resisted the Soviet laws. The Soviet law depriving them of the franchise was the Soviet government’s reply to this resistance. Quite some time has elapsed since. then. During this period we have succeeded in abolishing the exploiting classes, and the Soviet government has become an invincible force. Has not the time arrived for us to revise this law? I think the time has arrived
Such is the position with regard to the amendments and addenda to the Draft Constitution of the USSR
Source: I. V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishers, 1934), pp. 561-589.