1936 Soviet Constitution
Beginning in 1936, December 5 was celebrated as Soviet Constitution day in the USSR until the 1977 Soviet Constitution moved the day to October 7. Before 1936, there was no Soviet Constitution day.
The constitution repealed restrictions on voting and added universal direct suffrage and the right to work to rights guaranteed by the previous constitution. In addition, the 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 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 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 and its Central Executive Committee by 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. As under the former constitution, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet 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. The Sovnarkom (after 1946 known as the Council of Ministers) continued to act as the executive arm of the government.
Of the three Soviet constitutions, the 1936 constitution survived longest. It was amended in 1944 but replaced in 1977.
The names of all Soviet republics were changed, transposing the second ("socialist") and third ("soviet" or e.g. "radianska" in Ukrainian) words.
Leading role of Communist Party
In 1936, for the first time, a Soviet constitution specifically mentioned the role of the Communist Party. Article 126 portrayed the Party as a "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.
Soviet portrayal and liberal criticism
The constitution provided 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." Western historians and historians from former Soviet countries have seen the constitution as a propaganda document. Leonard Schapiro, for example, writes that "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."
Freedom of religion
Article 124 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, the inclusion of which was opposed by large segments of the Communist Party. 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.
Reorganization of the armed forces and the republics
The 1944 amendments to the 1936 Constitution established separate branches of the Red Army for each Soviet Republic. They 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.
- Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Russian, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0415320941 (page 250)
- "State and Society Under Stalin: Constitutions and Elections in the 1930s," article by J. Arch Getty in Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1991). p. 19, 22.
- Loeber, Dietrich André, ed. (1986). Ruling Communist Parties and Their Status Under Law. Law in Eastern Europe. 31. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 438. ISBN 9789024732098. Retrieved 2015-12-19.
[...] 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.
- "Конституция (Основной закон) Союза Советских Социалистических Республик (утверждена постановлением Чрезвычайного VIII Съезда Советов Союза Советских Социалистических Республик от 5 декабря 1936 г.). Глава Х: Основные права и обязанности граждан" [Constitution (Basic Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (confirmed by the decision of the Extraordinary 8th Session of the Soviets of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of 5 December 1936). Chapter 10: Basic rights and duties of citizens]. Sait Konstitutsii Rossiiskoi Federatsii (in Russian). НПП "Гарант-Сервис". Retrieved 2015-12-19.
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.
- Pravda, November 25, 1936.
- Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 2nd ed., Random House, New York, 1971, pp. 410-411.
- Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 1999. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York: Oxford University Press, 179.
- "Walter Duranty Explains Changes In Soviet Constitution," Miami News, Feb. 6 1944
- League of Nations Timeline - Chronology 1944
- United Nations - Founding Members
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/. - Soviet Union
- (Russian) Full Text and All Subsequent Laws Amending the 1936 Constitution of the U.S.S.R.
- English translation of 1936 Constitution