Thursday, July 15, 2010

The (Im)Permanence of Soviet Law

“During the years of World War II, the use of capital punishment was occasionally extended for various reasons (as, for example, by the militarization of the railroads), and, at times, was broadened as to method (from April, 1943, on, for example, with the decree on hanging).

All these events delayed to a certain extent the promised full, final, and perpetual repeal of the death penalty. However, the patience and loyalty of our people finally earned them this reward. In May, 1947, Iosif Vissarionivich inspected his new starched dickey in his mirror, liked it, and dictated to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet the Decree on the Abolition of Capital Punishment in peacetime (replacing it with a new maximum term of twenty-five years—it was a good pretext for introducing the so-called quarter).

But our people are ungrateful, criminal, and incapable of appreciating generosity. Therefore, after the rulers had creaked along and eked out two and a half years without the death penalty, on January 12, 1950, a new decree was published that constituted an about-face: “In view of petitions pouring in from the national republics [the Ukraine?], from the trade unions [oh, those lovely trade unions; they always know what’s needed], from peasant organizations [this was dictated by a sleepwalker: the Gracious Sovereign had stomped to death all peasant organizations way back in the Year of the Great Turning Point], and also from cultural leaders [now, that is quite likely],” capital punishment was restored for a conglomeration of “traitors of the Motherland, spies, and subversives-diversionists.” (And, of course, they forgot to repeal the quarter, the twenty-five year sentence, which remained in force.)

And once this return to our familiar friend, to our beheading blade, had begun, things went further with no effort at all: in 1954, for premeditated murder; in May 1961, for theft of state property, and counterfeiting, and terrorism in places of imprisonment (this was directed especially at prisoners who killed informers and terrorized the camp administration); in July 1961, for violating the rules governing foreign currency transactions; in February, 1962, for threatening the lives of (shaking a fist at) policemen or Communist vigilantes, the so-called “druzhinniki”; then for rape; and immediately thereafter for bribery.
But all of this is simply temporary—until complete abolition. And that’s how it’s described today too.” (Aleksandr Solzhenistyn The Gulag Archipelago, Volume I page 439-440).

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