Washington Law Review

Article Title

The Spirit of Soviet Law


The Russian Revolution of 1917 seems to fall into the pattern of the great European revolutions. As with its predecessors, its original fury was unleashed against all legality, and its original vision was directed toward a society which would be free of the very idea of law. Like them, it has in the course of time settled down, and in settling down has invoked "stability of laws." In fact, orthodox principles have been restored, since the md-193o's, in one field of Soviet law after another. Nevertheless, Soviet jurists claim that their law is "law of a new type, essentially different from all types of law known to history, particularly bourgeois law." Despite many similarities between present-day Soviet law and, for example, American law—despite its striking resemblance especially to pre-revolutionary Russian law—Vyshinsky and other leaders of the Soviet legal profession assert emphatically that their law is "socialist in form and in content." How can Soviet law be at the same time so similar and so different? The Soviet explanation is based on the intricacies of Marxist-Leninst-Stalinist theory. A simpler answer may be this: that both in form and in content there is a similarity in letter, a difference in spirit. Accepting this answer as a hypothesis, I propose to examine the spirit of Soviet law—first in the "revolutionary" period of 1917 to 1936, then in the "post-revolutionary" period from 1936 to the present—and to single out certain basic attitudes which underlie Soviet law today and give it a distinctive character.

First Page