Soviet Definition of Subjective Rights

A. A. Piontkovskii, Objective and Subjective Rights. 1958

 

Original Source: “K voprosu o vzaimootnoshenii ob”ektivnogo i sub”ektivnogo prava,” Sovetskoe gosudarstvo i pravo, No. 5 (1958), pp. 25-28.

In its resolutions, the Twentieth Party Congress pointed out to state, Party, and social organizations the necessity of vigilantly guarding Soviet laws, of exposing all those who encroach upon the socialist legal order and the rights of Soviet citizens, of sternly suppressing manifestations of arbitrariness and lawlessness. The Communist party considers safeguarding the rights and freedoms of Soviet citizens to be one of the fundamental tasks of the socialist legality. For the purpose of carrying out this policy a number of significant legislative acts have been issued in recent years, acts that are directed at strengthening socialist legality and creating conditions that would make violations of the socialist legality which took place in the past impossible …

A theoretical elaboration of the problem of subjective rights of the citizens of socialist society has special political significance at the present time…

The problem of subjective right … and in particular the question concerning subjective rights of citizens in relation to the organs of the socialist state, has received clearly inadequate treatment …

… It seems to us that the indispensable prerequisite for the successful elimination of this gap is an unequivocal recognition that subjective right has the quality of law. Therefore, one could have misgivings about the success of the treatment of the problem of subjective right if one proceeded on the assumption that the very expression “subjective right” should be relinquished. Let us remind the reader that in an editorial, “On the situation of the Juridical Sciences,” published in 1953 in the journal Voprosy Filosofii, the idea of subjective right was declared as non-corresponding to socialist relations, and the preservation of this idea in Soviet juridical literature was looked upon as the result of the influence of bourgeois jurisprudence.’

In the article “Problems of Content and Form in Law,” L. S. Iavich declared the term “subjective right” archaic (!) and suggested that it should be completely given up and replaced by the term “legal competence” (pravomochie). The authors of a new textbook, The Theory of State and Law, selected the same path. Without giving any justification, they renounce the very idea of subjective right and, in its place, speak of legal competence of the subject to juridical relations.’ Hence, it is not surprising that the problem of subjective right, and in particular the question of subjective rights of citizens, could not find proper illumination in that work.

In the article “On the Question of the Meaning of Law,” E. Farber expressed himself against our proposal to consider as law not only objective right (the legal norms) but also subjective right and, following L. S. Iavich, declared himself in favor of renouncing the idea of subjective right. It would be a mistake to view all these declarations as involving merely a terminological problem. They are connected with an understanding of the relationship between objective and subjective right. Thus, I.E. Farber wrote: “Consequently, subjective right should by no means be referred to as law, because only legal norms are law, that is, norms expressing the state will of the class that carries into practice dictatorship and its authority. I. E. Farber’s position is consistent in its own way: if law is merely an aggregate of legal norms, then subjective right is not law…

I.E. Farber’s denial that subjective right has the quality of law is closely connected with the dogmatic treatment of the conception of law which was formulated by A. IA. Vyshinskii in 1938. While he correctly focused the attention of Soviet jurists upon the need to systematically study the legal norms of active Soviet legislation (this played a positive role in the struggle against legal nihilism), his general approach to the understanding of socialist law nevertheless arouses serious objections. The point of the matter is that in defining the nature of socialist law he proceeded merely “from the relations of domination and subordination expressed in law. Such a one-sided approach fixed attention upon only one aspect of law-as a definite obligation emanating from the state. Such an understanding of law made it necessary to view legal norms themselves in a one-sided way, merely as imperative norm-prohibitions. What were overlooked thereby were the “permissible” norms, which found wide expression in Soviet legislation and which establish, precisely, the subjective rights of citizens.

Such an understanding of law was definitely connected with the generally mistaken proposition of Stalin about the intensification of the class struggle in the period of socialism, which he advanced during those years. The view of the socialist law as expressing a relationship of domination and subordination reflected mere] the militant side of the dictatorship of the working class, its attitude toward the enemies who sought to undermine the power of the workingmen. But, as Lenin taught, the dictatorship of the working class is at the same time an unprecedented expansion of democracy for the working masses-drawing them into the administration of state affairs. in uncovering the nature of socialist law it is inadmissible to ignore the socialist democratic character of the dictatorship of the working class, which is reflected in law…

… The reduction of right to legal norms alone is contrary to actual reality. Law is a considerably more complex social phenomenon than mere legal norms-than rules of due conduct-which are safeguarded by the coercive force of the state.

The definition of law as “an aggregate of norms” fixes attention merely upon the aspects in which jurists are directly and primarily interested. Dialectical logic is opposed to such a limited approach in cognizing law. In studying law, we should take into account the dialectical connections of all its sides; we should reveal its nature as a unity of opposites-of objective and subjective right. In actual reality an effective legal norm always produces legal relations corresponding to it. Objective law exists, therefore, always in unity with subjective rights and the legal obligations corresponding to them. One without the other is nonexistent…

We reject the theory of natural law and the inalienable rights of a person. The existence of subjective right is connected with the norm of objective law. Yet, at the same time, the creation of subjective rights, in conformity with the norm of objective law, cannot be viewed as an arbitrary action on the part of the legislator. It expresses the material conditions in the life of society. The subjective rights of the citizens of a socialist society are created in conformity with objective necessity in the development of the socialist society, in which the welfare of the toilers of the socialist society constitutes the highest law of the state’s policy. Socialist society creates material conditions for the thorough development of the person and a thorough satisfaction of his material and cultural needs. The subjective rights of citizens of a socialist society are the legal conditions for the satisfaction of these needs of a person. Subjective right is not an archaic and useless idea for socialist law. On the contrary, in conformity with the objective necessities in the development of socialist society, it acquires actual and fullest significance. The problem of subjective rights of citizens in a socialist society is a juridical aspect of a general problem concerning the relationships between a person and the socialist state.

Source: Michael Jaworskyj, ed., Soviet Political Thought; an anthology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 414-416.

Comments are closed