A New Constitution

     20. In December 1936 the Extraordinary 8th Congress of Soviets approved the draft of the new Soviet Constitution. It called for secret ballot and contested elections. (Zhukov, Inoy 307-9)

     21. Candidates were to be allowed not only from the Bolshevik Party -- called the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) at that time5 -- but from other citizens' groups as well, based on residence, affiliation (such as religious groups), or workplace organizations. This last provision was never put into effect. Contested elections were never held.

     22. The democratic aspects of the Constitution were inserted at the express insistence of Joseph Stalin. Together with his closest supporters in the Politburo of the Bolshevik Party Stalin fought tenaciously to keep these provisions. (Getty, "State") He, and they, yielded only when confronted by the complete refusal by the Party's Central Committee, and by the panic surrounding the discovery of serious conspiracies, in collaboration with Japanese and German fascism, to overthrow the Soviet government.

     23. In January 1935 the Politburo assigned the task of outlining the contents of a new Constitution to Avel' Yenukidze 6 who, some months later, returned with a suggestion for open, uncontested elections. Almost immediately, on January 25, 1935, Stalin expressed his disagreement with Yenukidze's proposal, insisting upon secret elections. (Zhukov, Inoy 116-21)

     24. Stalin made this disagreement public in a dramatic manner in a March 1936 interview with American newspaper magnate Roy Howard. Stalin declared that the Soviet constitution would guarantee that all voting would be by secret ballot. Voting would be on an equal basis, with a peasant vote counting as much as that of a worker7; on a territorial basis, as in the West, rather than according to status (as during Czarist times) or place of employment; and direct -- all Soviets would be elected by the citizens themselves, not indirectly by representatives. (Stalin-Howard Interview; Zhukov, "Repressii" 5-6)

Stalin: We shall probably adopt our new constitution at the end of this year. The commission appointed to draw up the constitution is working and should finish its labors soon. As has been announced already, according to the new constitution, the suffrage will be universal, equal, direct, and secret. (Stalin-Howard Interview 13)

     25. Most important, Stalin declared that all elections would be contested.

You are puzzled by the fact that only one party will come forward at elections. You cannot see how election contests can take place under these conditions. Evidently, candidates will be put forward not only by the Communist Party, but by all sorts of public, non-Party organizations. And we have hundreds of them. We have no contending parties any more than we have a capitalist class contending against a working class which is exploited by the capitalists. Our society consists exclusively of free toilers of town and country -- workers, peasants, intellectuals. Each of these strata may have its special interests and express them by means of the numerous public organizations that exist. (13-14)

Different citizens' organizations would be able to set forth candidates to run against the Communist Party's candidates. Stalin told Howard that citizens would cross off the names of all candidates except those they wished to vote for.

     26. He also stressed the importance of contested elections in fighting bureaucracy.

You think that there will be no election contests. But there will be, and I foresee very lively election campaigns. There are not a few institutions in our country which work badly. Cases occur when this or that local government body fails to satisfy certain of the multifarious and growing requirements of the toilers of town and country. Have you built a good school or not? Have you improved housing conditions? Are you a bureaucrat? Have you helped to make our labor more effective and our lives more cultured? Such will be the criteria with which millions of electors will measure the fitness of candidates, reject the unsuitable, expunge their names from candidates' lists, and promote and nominate the best. Yes, election campaigns will be lively, they will be conducted around numerous, very acute problems, principally of a practical nature, of first class importance for the people. Our new electoral system will tighten up all institutions and organizations and compel them to improve their work. Universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage in the U.S.S.R. will be a whip in the hands of the population against the organs of government which work badly. In my opinion our new Soviet constitution will be the most democratic constitution in the world. (15)

     27. From this point on, Stalin and his closest Politburo associates Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrei Zhdanov spoke up for secret, contested elections in all discussions within the Party leadership. (Zhukov, Inoy 207-10; Stalin-Howard Interview)

     28. Stalin also insisted that many Soviet citizens who had been deprived of the franchise have it restored. These included members of former exploiting classes such as former landlords, and those who had fought against the Bolsheviks during the Civil War of 1918-1921, known as "White Guardists", as well as those convicted of certain crimes (as in the USA today). Most important, and probably most numerous, among the lishentsy ("deprived") were two groups: "kulaks," the main targets during the Collectivization movement of a few years before; and those who had violated the 1932 "law of three ears"8 -- who had stolen state property, often grain, sometimes simply to avoid starvation. (Zhukov, Inoy 187)

     29. These electoral reforms would have been unnecessary unless the Stalin leadership wanted to change the manner in which the Soviet Union was governed. They wanted to get the Communist Party out of the business of directly running the Soviet Union.

     30. During the Russian Revolution and the critical years that followed, the USSR had been legally governed by an elected hierarchy of soviets (="councils"), from local to national level, with the Supreme Soviet as the national legislative body, the Council (= soviet) of People's Commissars as the executive body, and the Chairman of this Council as the head of state. But in reality, at every level, choice of these officials had always been in the hands of the Bolshevik Party. Elections were held, but direct nomination by Party leaders, called "cooptation," was also common. Even the elections were controlled by the Party, since no one could run for office unless Party leaders agreed.

     31. To the Bolsheviks, this had made sense. It was the form that the dictatorship of the proletariat took in the specific historical conditions of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary Soviet Union. Under the New Economic Policy, or NEP,9 the labor and skills of former and current exploiters were needed. But they had to be used only in service to the working-class dictatorship -- to socialism. They were not to be permitted to rebuild capitalist relationships beyond certain limits, nor to regain political power.

     32. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s the Bolshevik Party recruited aggressively among the working class. By the end of the 1920s most Party members were workers and a high per centage of workers were in the Party. This massive recruitment and huge attempts at political education took place at the same time as the tremendous upheavals of the first Five-Year Plan, crash industrialization, and largely forced collectivization of individual farms into collective (kolkhoz) or soviet farms (sovkhoz). The Bolshevik leadership was both sincere in its attempt to "proletarianize" their Party, and successful in the result. (Rigby, 167-8; 184; 199)

     33. Stalin and his supporters on the Politburo gave a number of reasons for wanting to democratize the Soviet Union. These reasons reflected the Stalin leadership's belief that a new state of socialism had been reached.

     34. Most peasants were in collective farms. With fewer individual peasant farms every month, the Stalin leadership believed that, objectively, the peasants no longer constituted a separate socio-economic class. Peasants were more like workers than different from them.

     35. Stalin argued that, with the rapid growth of Soviet industry, and especially with the working class holding political power through the Bolshevik Party, the word "proletariat" was no longer accurate. "Proletariat," Stalin averred, referred to the working class under capitalist exploitation, or working under capitalist-type relations of production, such as existed during the first dozen years of the Soviet Union, especially under the NEP. But with direct exploitation of workers by capitalists for profit now abolished, the working class should no longer be called the "proletariat."

     36. According to this view, exploiters of labor no longer existed. Workers, now running the country in their own interest through the Bolshevik Party, were no longer like the classic "proletariat." Therefore, the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was no longer an adequate concept. These new conditions called for a new kind of state. (Zhukov, Inoy 231; 292; Stalin, "Draft" 800-1)

Anti Bureaucracy Struggle

Stalin's Defeat

Trials, conspiracies, Repression

Notes, Bibliograpy part One